McDougal Trial Delayed Till Aug. 10
A Superior Court judge Friday postponed Susan McDougal’s embezzlement trial for another week and told lawyers in the case to refrain from mentioning independent counsel Kenneth Starr at trial, unless they can demonstrate relevance.
In court in Santa Monica, Judge Leslie W. Light said he felt the issue of Starr and his Whitewater investigation was about as germane to the charges against McDougal as the question of “whether giraffes have more of an odor than rhinoceroses.”
He said lawyers will have to make an “offer of proof” that reference to Starr would be pertinent before mentioning the prosecutor’s ongoing investigation in his courtroom.
McDougal, former business partner of President and Mrs. Clinton in the Whitewater land deal, is charged in an unrelated case with embezzling about $150,000 while she worked as a personal assistant and bookkeeper for Nancy Mehta, wife of former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta, in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The judge’s order would appear to hamper the defense. Attorney Mark Geragos previously said that McDougal was being prosecuted merely to get her to talk to Starr’s office. The defense lawyer had called the Whitewater connection the “core” of his case.
Light on Friday also set the parameters of a modified gag order, barring attorneys from discussing the merits of the case with the media. Lawyers will risk contempt charges if they comment on evidence or offer opinions about the case.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Semow on Friday criticized Geragos for publicly suggesting that the embezzlement charges were filed in order to pressure McDougal to cooperate with Starr.
Geragos, meanwhile, sought to have most of the charges against his client dismissed, claiming that the statute of limitations had run out by the time Nancy Mehta brought her allegations that McDougal had stolen from her.
The judge said he would decide Monday whether to hold a hearing on the statute of limitations issue, a decision that could further delay the trial’s start.
Light agreed to postpone trial from Aug. 3 to Aug. 10 so that McDougal, who is undergoing medical treatment for back problems, can be fitted with a brace by her doctors in Arkansas.
But Light said he wanted McDougal to appear in court Aug. 7 to make sure that both sides are ready to proceed.
“In other words, on Aug. 7 I want to make sure the runway is cleared for takeoff, that we’ve got the plane and all the passengers,” said Light.
McDougal served an 18-month prison sentence for civil contempt after she refused to testify about the Clintons before a federal grand jury.
She is scheduled for a federal trial in late September in Arkansas on two counts of criminal contempt and an obstruction of justice charge for refusing to answer the Whitewater grand jury’s questions.