Judges Hear Ethics Complaints Against Starr
By Terry Frieden/CNN
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (March 5) -- Claims of ethical violations by Whitewater Independent Counsel Ken Starr were heard Thursday by a panel of three appeals court judges who expressed doubts they should even get involved in the issue.
In an ironic twist, the politically charged court hearing took place at the University of Arkansas law school in Fayetteville where Bill and Hillary Clinton once taught. The hearing attracted a smattering of anti-Starr demonstrators.
The judges heard one of Starr's most outspoken critics, attorney Frank
Mandanici, call for them to overturn a lower court ruling that dismissed his complaints about Starr's ethics.
Mandanici told the jurists Starr needs to be investigated and, if necessary, disciplined for real and perceived conflicts of interest. He cited, in particular, Starr's plan to accept a position at Pepperdine University, which is heavily funded by Clinton political foe Richard Mellon Scaife.
Mandanici told the panel of 8th Circuit Court judges that the lower court, which dismissed his complaints about the independent counsel, had "placed Mr. Starr above the law and given him immunity."
Judge Theodore McMillian of St. Louis indicated some sympathy for considering a conflict of interest, but said he wasn't sure Mandanici could bring the case because he had no relationship to the investigation. Judge Arlen Beam of Lincoln, Neb., was more succinct. "We have to decide whether we should be here at all," he told Mandanici.
A lawyer representing Starr, however, claimed the lower court was right when it accused Mandanici of simply being on a personal vendetta against Starr. LeRoy Jahn, a former assistant prosecutor in Starr's Little Rock office, told the court defendants in the case should bring any charges against Starr. She dismissed Mandanici's claim that defendants in Starr's trials are intimidated.
"Susan McDougal on 'Larry King Live' is not the least bit intimidated," Jahn said.
Jahn and her husband, Ray Jahn, played key roles in the prosecution of
Whitewater partners James and Susan McDougal and then-Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker.
It was over Starr's objections that the 8th Circuit panel in Fayetteville agreed to consider complaints by Mandanici. The panel is not expected to rule until later this year.
Mandanici is appealing his complaint's dismissal last October by lower court judges in Little Rock. In that grievance, Mandanici accused Starr of real and apparent conflicts of interest, which he says should lead to disciplinary action against the independent counsel.
In an order written by Judge Susan Webber Wright and backed by two other judges, the dismissal said, "In the absence of specific evidence ... this court declines the opportunity to provide Mr. Mandanici a forum for pursuing his vendetta."
Mandanici, however, took heart in a dissenting opinion by Judge G. Thomas Eisele, who said, "Mr. Starr is laboring under the appearance of a serious conflict of interests stemming from the Pepperdine-Scaife allegations."
With that opening, Mandanici argued Thursday that Starr may be inclined to exercise his powers in a way which would satisfy Scaife.
Mandanici insists he is operating on his own and is not a tool of the
White House. Mandanici earlier failed in his request to Attorney General Janet
Reno to fire Starr for similar reasons. However, the Justice Department's reply
letter to Mandanici has taken on increased importance.
The Justice letter to Mandanici said Reno can use the removal provision of
the independent counsel law "in only extreme, necessary cases," or it could severely undermine the public confidence in investigation of wrongdoing by public officials.
Since Mandanici's request, House Judiciary Committee Democrats and others have written to the Justice Department asking Reno to investigate claims of misconduct against Starr. Those requests are being studied.
Mandanici says even if Starr can't be fired, his conflicts should meet the
lower disciplinary standards of suspension, reprimand or censure by a federal
Starr faces other complaints
Meanwhile, the Justice Department announced Wednesday it will review a
another complaint against the independent counsel, which was filed by a South Carolina lawyer alleging that Starr concealed false testimony while
representing General Motors in a civil case.
Attorney Kendall Few says Starr helped conceal alleged perjury by a General Motors engineer while defending the company in a product liability suit dealing with fuel tank fires.
Few filed the complaint with U.S. Attorney Rene Josey in Columbia, S.C., and Justice Department officials in Washington expect to get it soon, according to department sources.