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McDougal Defense Team Granted Delay

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Santa Monica Superior Court judge put off for two weeks the trial of Whitewater business partner Susan McDougal, who is accused of embezzling $150,000 from the wife of conductor Zubin Mehta, her former employer.

Judge Steven C. Suzukawa granted a defense motion to delay the trial until July 24, even as he indicated his irritation with both the defense’s failure to have McDougal brought from home detention in Arkansas and the bickering between the defense and prosecution.

“I’m going to be so sad to see this [case] go,” Suzukawa said sarcastically before denying both attorneys’ requests to impose sanctions on the other side for alleged discovery violations.

Suzukawa assigned the case to a courtroom set up to hear lengthy cases. Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Semow has estimated that the embezzlement case against McDougal could take six weeks.

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Defense attorney Mark Geragos has said the charges against McDougal are bogus and an attempt to harass his client, who with ex-husband James McDougal was a central figure in Whitewater, a failed mid-1980s real estate deal in Arkansas that involved President Clinton and his wife.

Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s office has denied McDougal’s claim that she was promised immunity in the Mehta case if she cooperated with Starr.

McDougal served 18 months in jail for contempt of court after she refused to testify about the Clintons before a Whitewater grand jury. She had begun serving a two-year sentence in Arkansas for fraud and conspiracy in connection with the Whitewater deal when she was released to home detention because of a medical condition.

On Monday, Suzukawa expressed little patience for the contentious claims of Semow and Geragos, who accused each other of misleading the court.

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Geragos charged that Semow waited until the week before trial to turn over 1,000 pages of new documents. Some of those materials, he said, could vindicate his client. In them, Geragos said, Nancy Mehta acknowledged making some of the credit card purchases she had earlier said had been illegally made by McDougal.

“I can’t imagine anything more crucial to the defense,” Geragos said.

Semow shot back that Geragos’ claims of document dumping were “bull.”

All but nine pages of the materials were summaries of information previously turned over to the defense, Semow said, adding that he had been hampered in his evidence-gathering by Geragos’ uncooperative behavior.

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