Governor’s lawyer resigns days before trial

February 26, 1988

By LAURIE ASSEO
Associated Press

PHOENIX, ARIZ. PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) — Gov. Evan Mecham’s chief attorney has resigned, just days after other lawyers were brought in to handle the governor’s impeachment trial, and the new defense team said it would ask the state Supreme Court to delay next week’s trial.

“We will file an action in the Arizona Supreme Court today with respect to the impeachment proceedings,” said Thomas Crowe, a Phoenix attorney who is a member of the new Mecham defense team.

He said the high court would be asked to convene and hear oral arguments on the matter at 8 a.m. Monday, one hour before the impeachment trial is to open before the Senate.

Crowe said the court would be asked to issue an injunction staying impeachment proceedings by the Senate. But he declined to specify what grounds would be cited for a delay other than to say, “There will be constitutional grounds.”

Senators, who previously delayed the trial’s start a week, refused earlier this week to give Crowe and Washington attorney Jerris Leonard more time to prepare the governor’s defense.

Murray Miller, who represented Mecham since last October, said today during a brief interview at his office that he decided Thursday night to withdraw from the case. He declined to elaborate on the decision but he said he hoped members of the Senate would not suspect he had deceived them.

As late as Wednesday night, after his appearance before the Senate, “I was fully in charge of the case and defending the governor,” Miller said.

“I feel uncomfortable that the impeachment court (the Senate) may think I knew about the withdrawal at the time I appeared and that I was being deceptive. I want them to be asssured that is totally not the case.”

Miller said he thought that Leonard, hired earlier this week by Mecham to be the lead lawyer for the impeachment trial, is now in charge of Mecham’s case.

Miller said he did not know whether the new Mecham legal team would be able to proceed with the impeachment trial as scheduled Monday, but assumed they would if so ordered.

“My main concern is that the governor gets a fair legal shake,” said Miller.

The Arizona Daily Star of Tucson today quoted the governor as saying: “Murray withdrew from the case. We parted friendly, but that’s really all. You’ll have to ask him why.”

Mecham and Leonard did not immediately return phone calls this morning.

Leonard resigned from the Washington law firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg, Tunney and Evans because of his decision to join Mecham’s defense, said Charles T. Manatt, a senior partner in the firm.

“Jerris Leonard informed the firm last week that he had been contacted by Governor Mecham concerning representation,” Manatt said. “We made it clear that the firm was not interested in representing Governor Mecham, and Mr. Leonard informed us that he has resigned from the firm.”

Manatt, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was asked why his firm wasn’t interested in being associated with the Mecham case. “Lots of reasons, you can well imagine,” he replied.

Miller said Wednesday he did not know additional attorneys were being hired until Leonard walked into his office Monday.

The beleaguered Mecham also faces a May 17 recall election and a March 22 criminal trial on charges of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan.

The Senate on Wednesday refused to delay the impeachment trial. Miller said then that he expected to remain the lead attorney until Leonard could get acquainted with the case.

Mecham hired Miller on Oct. 21, the day it was disclosed that the attorney general’s office was investigating Mecham’s failure to disclose the $350,000 campaign loan made in 1986.

On Thursday, Miller filed a motion asking the state Senate to dismiss the impeachment case.

Lawyers in the case also raised the possibility that the governor would go to state or federal court today in an effort to delay the Senate trial. Senate counsel John Lundin told lawmakers he expected any challenge to be filed in the state Supreme Court.

If Mecham’s attorneys ask a court to delay the trial, the Senate is expected to argue that courts have no jurisdiction over a legislative impeachment.

The motion filed Thursday said, “This impeachment article should be dismissed and the governor should be permitted to govern this state as mandated by the will of the people in the last election.”

Miller has contended that the Republican governor’s impeachment trial should be delayed until after his criminal trial, on grounds that the criminal jury would be prejudiced by the publicity surrounding an impeachment trial.

Mecham was impeached Feb. 5 on a 46-16 House vote. Several days later the House approved 23 impeachment articles outlining details of three broad charges against the governor: that he concealed the $350,000 campaign loan, misused $80,000 from the governor’s protocol fund by lending it to his auto dealership, and tried to thwart an investigation of an alleged death threat by a state official.

Miller argued that the claim regarding the alleged death threat was a “tempest in a teapot” that had “given the prosecutors the unbridled license to wildly charge crimes against the governor in a vindictive and persecutorial manner.”

Miller said Mecham cannot be convicted for allegedly concealing the $350,000 loan because a campaign financial report on which the loan was lumped with other funds was made on Dec. 5, 1986, before Mecham took office. The state constitution says officials may be impeached only for acts committed while in office, Miller said.

Miller said the $80,000 loan to Mecham Pontiac violated no laws and was “nothing short of a prudent investment” that earned higher interest than the money would have gotten in a bank.