Impeachment trial concludes; Mecham’s legal fees to be paid

April 6, 1988

By LINDA DEUTSCH
Associated Press

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The Arizona Senate, convening as an impeachment court for the last time, voted Wednesday to pay deposed Gov. Evan Mecham’s legal fees for the trial which removed him from office.

“The time has come to take the first step, extend the hand for a handshake and say this is over,” Mecham’s attorney, Jerris Leonard, said in requesting payment of $202,433.75. “Let’s start the healing process.”

Leonard told the Senate that he, attorney Fred Craft and their assistants were assured of being paid in any case.

The Senate approved the payment on a vote of 16-13.

Several senators urged the payment as a sign of compassion, though some other senators were annoyed that Mecham had been on national television a few hours earlier proclaiming his innocence.

In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Mecham said he might appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leonard said after the Senate session that he would have to study the legal issues before he could decide on attempting an appeal.

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank X. Gordon told a news conference later in the day that the Senate was Mecham’s “court of last resort” and he can’t appeal.

Also on Wednesday, two Phoenix residents sued seeking to cancel the May 17 gubernatorial recall election as unnecessary.

Rose Mofford, the former secretary of state, was sworn in as Mecham’s successor Tuesday. On Wednesday, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge rejected a bid to have her name barred from the ballot in the event a recall election goes forward.

Mecham had said in his TV interview that he plans to run in the May 17 recall election if the courts rule that his name can be on the ballot. Arizona’s acting secretary of state has ordered Mecham’s name removed pending a resolution of legal issues.

“I’ve never had more support,” Mecham said, adding that he believed he could win the recall election. “I’ll definitely run in it unless they get it so tied up in legal technicalities,” he said.

One senator, Democrat Jesus “Chuy” Higuera, cited Mecham’s interview as grounds for not paying of his legal fees.

If Mecham were elected again, he’d probably be impeached again and the Senate would be stuck with a precedent for paying his fees, Higuera said.

Republican John Mawhinney, who voted against paying the fees, said the impeachment was Mecham’s fault and “we are not allowed to buy compassion.”

Mecham, 63, was convicted Monday on charges that he tried to thwart a death-threat investigation and misused $80,000 from a protocol fund by loaning it to his auto dealership.

He was only the seventh U.S. governor to be convicted in an impeachment trial and the first to be removed from office in 59 years. The trial began. Feb. 29.

The presiding officer, Gordon, reported that attorney Murray Miller had telephoned asking that the Senate consider paying his bill for Mecham’s defense too.

Leonard said Miller had been paid in full, a total of $110,000.

“Frankly, I’ve had enough of Murray Miller and his antics,” said Leonard. “He doesn’t belong in this body. He doesn’t represent the governor.”

Leonard replaced Miller as Mecham’s chief attorney just before the impeachment trial.

Miller, who was said by his office to be busy meeting with a client, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

After senators passed a resolution of thanks and gave a standing ovation to Gordon, the presiding officer asked if there were further motions.

“Mr. Presiding Officer, we urge no more motions,” said prosecutor William French. “We say amen.”