- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2000

BALTIMORE A Howard County Circuit Court judge yesterday denied a motion by state prosecutors in the Linda Tripp wiretapping case asking the jurist to clarify her decision barring most of Monica Lewinsky's testimony.

Judge Diane O. Leasure's May 5 decision to suppress most of the former White House intern's testimony, which she considered tainted and not credible, could hamper the state's effort to prosecute Mrs. Tripp.

Judge Leasure said prosecutors were in effect asking her to reconsider her decision.

"To treat the state's motion as a request for clarification, as opposed to a reconsideration, would be to put form over substance," she said in her written decision.

A ruling to suppress can only be reconsidered under certain legal criteria, none of which was present in this case, she ruled.

Mrs. Tripp faces charges that she recorded on Dec. 22, 1997, a telephone conversation with Miss Lewinsky about the intern's affair with President Clinton, and then allowed her attorney to play it for Newsweek magazine.

Recording a conversation without the consent of the other party is a crime in Maryland.

Special Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli argued that Miss Lewinsky could still be allowed to identify and authenticate her conversation with Mrs. Tripp.

Judge Leasure, however, said that position "is a strained interpretation" of her May 5 decision.

Prosecutors must prove that Miss Lewinsky's voice is on the tape in order to convict her.

"Clearly, she ruled against us and told us what her order means and that's what we asked her to do. But it wasn't the clarification we were looking for," said Mike McDonough, spokesman for Mr. Montanarelli.

Tripp attorney Joseph Murtha called on the state to drop its case.

"In light of the state's assertion that it was essential that they have the requested relief," said Mr. Murtha, referring to the clarification motion, "it would be an appropriate time to dismiss the case."

If prosecutors choose to go forward, Mr. Murtha said he plans to file several additional motions that could push any trial back from its scheduled July 10 start date.

In the event that a higher court overturns her ruling, Judge Leasure also restated her May 5 position that Miss Lewinsky's testimony to a Maryland grand jury in December was tainted by her reading of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress.

Maryland prosecutors have had to build a case against Mrs. Tripp, a Pentagon employee, that does not rely on evidence she gave to Mr. Starr's office while she was protected by a federal grant of immunity from prosecution.

Judge Leasure's May 5 ruling said Miss Lewinsky was "bathed in impermissible taint" because of her access to immunized testimony and her reliance on that information in her own testimony.

Judge Leasure also noted that Miss Lewinsky had lied before under oath, which damaged the credibility of her state testimony.

Yesterday's ruling reinforced the serious blow dealt to the state's case by Judge Leasure's decision to suppress testimony, said University of Baltimore law professor Byron Warnken.

"Even assuming they get to the jury, I think the prosecution would be hard pressed to convince 12 jurors that there is beyond a reasonable doubt that they have any strong evidence," Mr. Warnken said.

Prosecutors may have difficulty even getting the tape admitted as evidence because they can't prove that Mrs. Tripp did not have immunity the day it was recorded, said University of Maryland law professor Abe Dash.

"This may be a graceful way for Montanarelli to get out of the case," Mr. Dash said.

Disclosure of the tape and others Mrs. Tripp secretly recorded gave Mr. Starr evidence of a sexual relationship between Miss Lewinsky and Mr. Clinton. That evidence was used as a base for the impeachment trial of the president.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide