Judge denies mistrial, holds defense lawyer in contempt

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Susan McDougal’s defense lost a bid for a mistrial Thursday from a judge who also rejected her lawyer’s argument that independent counsel Kenneth Starr is behind her embezzlement prosecution.
Superior Court Judge Leslie Light ruled the prosecution did not violate Mrs. McDougal’s rights by withholding federal grand jury transcripts until this week. He also held her lawyer in contempt for his objections to the judge’s statements on the law.
Famed conductor Zubin Mehta and his wife, Nancy, contend that Mrs. McDougal bilked them out of $150,000 while she was their bookkeeper from 1989 to 1992.
Light dismissed attorney Mark Geragos’ contention that Starr is “propping up” Mrs. McDougal’s embezzlement case in order to pressure her into testifying against President Clinton in the Whitewater case.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Semow admitted Wednesday that he gained access to secret federal grand jury transcripts “a month or two” ago, but never told the defense because he believed he had no legal obligation to do so.
Light ruled that was not cause for a mistrial after reading the documents and concluding that nothing in them that would favor Mrs. McDougal so heavily that it would change her defense strategy.
The transcripts include testimony from Mrs. McDougal’s deceased husband, James, a key figure in the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas, and from her fiance, Pat Harris.