Mecham's Final Strategy: Attack! Attack! Attack!

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As Gertrude Stein once said, "Money is always there, but the pockets change. It is not in the same pockets after a change, but that's all there is to say about money." Steiger made the most telling blow against Corbin in giving his final statement before being sentenced.

"I lied to the attorney general," he said dryly, "for the same reason I would to a stickup man in an alley who asked me if I had any money." Nothing said at the Supreme Court hearing was memorable.

Mike Scott, the ever aggressive rodeo cowboy, had been superb at Mecham's criminal trial. He had run roughshod over Barnett Lotstein and Michael Cudahy of the Attorney General's Office and waltzed Mecham to safety.

Mecham's lawyers at the impeachment had been the florid Fred Craft and the callous Jerris Leonard. They both looked like stereotypes straight from Dickens and the Old Bailey. Before that, Murray Miller, a specialist in criminal law, had provided a kind of slick Chicago criminal court defense that proved extremely effective.

There's just one thing you have to know about Donald "Mac" MacPherson, Mecham's lawyer before the Supreme Court. On his own, he chose to take on the case of James Earl Ray, the killer of Martin Luther King Jr.

Attorneys have a right and even a duty to represent anyone they choose. But we also have a right to make our own conclusions as to their choices.

MacPherson was given only a brief time to state his case before the Supreme Court. The heart of the case would be in written form. But in his verbal argument, MacPherson took exactly the most confrontational and the most wrong path. He chose to attack Chief Justice Frank Gordon Jr., who had, of course, absented himself from the panel.

MacPherson blamed Gordon, who presided over the impeachment, for preventing Mecham's chance to get a fair hearing. MacPherson charged that Gordon had given a speech to the state Senate declaring the hearing part political and part judicial. Gordon, he added, forbade Mecham's followers from lobbying senators on the governor's behalf.

So this part is truly over now. Mecham's impeachment trial now seems so distant it is almost hidden by the fog of time. The brilliant and passionate work of prosecuting attorneys Paul Eckstein and William French are now a part of legend.

The picture of Mecham in the dock has dimmed. He was truly a lightning rod and the flashes were so blinding that they dimmed the plot hatched against him by Ralph Milstead, the head of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. It is now so long ago that any theory has the possibility of acceptance.

Justice Feldman spoke for the court when he questioned whether they even had the power to act. Can they make the Senate, a separate branch of government, do anything at all, he asked.

"How can we send it back when the Senate has new members?" Justice Robert Corcoran, the newest justice asked. "And would it be tried before the new Senate or the old? " Corcoran is a Democrat who owes his job to Governor Mofford. Many of the other justices are Bruce Babbitt appointees.

Feldman said, "You are asking for a new trial. They can tell us to go fly a kite." Mecham sat through the hearing without changing expression. He took notes. Mecham took notes all during his impeachment, too. What happens to those notes, I wondered. So much anger and energy has already been used up. Perhaps it's time for everything to cool.

Mecham wasn't finished for the day, however. The truth about him is that he is never quite finished. That is both his saving grace and his eternal curse. Mecham still had an appearance to make on KTAR radio and then a press conference in a Central Avenue hotel.

I headed for the hotel so I could listen to Mecham on the radio.
Network radio was still following Hurricane Hugo.
"Hugo is now a category four hurricane," the newscaster said. "But Charleston, South Carolina, will never be the same. Hurricane Hugo struck with devastating force early today." At the height of his power, Mecham appeared regularly with Pat McMahon on KTAR. McMahon shielded Mecham from irate callers.

A single call on this day tells you that period is over:
Westmoreland: Now let's hear from Nancy in Phoenix.
Nancy: (angrily) If anyone else did what you did in this town they would be in Florence now. Oh, you are a crook and a liar. We watched those proceedings from beginning to end and you should see the way you lied. If I was the court I would run you out of town so the people of Phoenix could never hear the name Mecham again.

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Tom Fitzpatrick