Presiding Judge, Saying Defense Point ‘Made,’ Cuts Off Questioning On Motive
PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ The judge presiding over Gov. Evan Mecham’s impeachment trial told Mecham’s lawyer Tuesday that he had showed that the state’s top lawman ″had a motive to testify against the governor″ and ordered him to move on to other topics.
Arizona Supreme Court Justice Frank X. Gordon, who earlier fielded objections to questions focusing on the witness’ sex life, said he would allow no further testimony on the personal life or motives of Department of Public Safety Director Ralph Milstead, a key witness against Mecham on an obstruction of justice charge.
″You have made your point,″ Gordon told attorney Fred Craft as he concluded a two-day cross-examination of Milstead.
″You have established that director Milstead had a motive for testifying against the governor,″ said Gordon, ″that he had a high-paying job with more than a modicum of influence and with a number of perks.″
He said it was clear that Mecham had planned to fire Milstead and, ″presumably Col. Milstead wants to keep his job.″
But he said further evidence on the subject would be cumulative and time- consuming.
He noted that the Senate impeachment court could overrule his decision. But senators, who protested the slow pace of testimony was costing taxpayers $20,000 a day, went along with Gordon.
His ruling derailed an announced defense plan to call a parade or witnesses to challenge Milstead’s crediblity.
″This witness is the accuser of the governor ...,″ attorney Jerris Leonard told the Senate shortly before Gordon’s announcement. ″What we are doing is asking questions to lay the foundation for future witnesses to impeach his credibility.″
Prosecutor Paul Eckstein told reporters outside the hearing room that the judge’s ruling will bar the defense from calling to the stand a woman who the defense claims was Milstead’s paramour.
Craft’s questioning drew repeated protests from the prosecutors that he was using innuendo to delve into the sex life of Milstead. The subject was ruled off-limits by Gordon earlier.
The 63-year-old governor, who has not attended any sessions of the impeachment trial since it began last week, is accused of ordering Milstead not to help the attorney general investigate an alleged death threat to a grand jury witness by a Mecham aide.
The governor has acknowledged he may have given such instructions to Milstead but says he was not fully informed about the situation. And Milstead has said he cooperated with the attorney general’s office.
Craft was interrupted several times by objections from House prosector William French as Craft tried to delve into the relationship between Milstead and a one-time DPS informant Christina Juell Johnston.
Milstead said they had a professional relationship, adding, ″I counted her as a friend.″
But he denied he escorted her on dates in his state vehicle or paid for her meals out of state funds.
Craft previously had asked, ″Did you ever travel to Mrs. Christina Juell Johnston’s home in your state vehicle?″
″I believe I did, yes,″ said Milstead.
″Did you ever stay overnight at Mrs. Christina Juell Johnston’s home with your state vehicle?″ asked Craft. ″No, I did not,″ said Milstead.
As Craft continued to pose questions about the relationship, asking if Milstead paid for her meals at restaurants, French arose and addressed Gordon.
″Mr. Presiding Officer, this is cross-examination by innuendo. It’s improper,″ said French.
Gordon noted that he had ruled out questions about Milstead’s alleged sexual affair as irrelevant. Milstead, who is now divorced, was married at the time of the alleged affair, while Mrs. Johnston was single.
But Craft insisted he was merely seeking information about possible misuse by Milstead of a state vehicle or possible improper listing of meals on his expense account, and Gordon permitted the questions to continue.
In other questioning Tuesday, Craft suggested that Milstead purposely kept Mecham in the dark about the investigation of the alleged death threat.
But Milstead insisted: ″The relevant information was in his hands.′
Milstead acknowledged he never told Mecham he was planning to disobey the governor’s orders and take the case to the attorney general.
″I was in shock from his anger, ... his insistence we not cooperate″ Milstead said. ″... He was not to be reasoned with.
″When his words were, ‘Don’t give them any help whatsoever,’ I said, ‘OK’ and that was the end of the conversation.″
Asked whether Mecham might have assumed that Milstead was agreeing to obey his order to keep quiet, Milstead said, ″He could have construed it that way, yes.″
In addition to obstructing the attorney general’s investigation, Mecham is accused in the impeachment trial of concealing a $350,000 campaign loan and misusing $80,000 in a state fund by loaning it to his car dealership.
Mecham, the first U.S. governor to face an impeachment trial in six decades, also faces a criminal trial March 22 on felony charges of concealing the campaign loan and a recall election May 17.