Tripp lawyers accuse state of seeking change in ruling

Prosecutors want clarification from judge

May 17, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Defense lawyers for Linda R. Tripp fired back at state prosecutors yesterday, calling their tactics "deceptive" and accusing them of "shamelessly" requesting a clarification of a judicial ruling this month.

But state prosecutors didn't take kindly to the harsh language: "When you don't have a lot of substance, you use words like that," Assistant State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough said.

A Howard County Circuit judge said she would rule Monday on a request made Friday by prosecutors to clarify an order that limited state evidence in the wiretapping case against the Columbia resident.

In court papers filed yesterday, defense lawyers asked Judge Diane O. Leasure to deny the request, saying prosecutors were asking her to reverse her May 5 order. That ruling barred key elements of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky's testimony.

"The deceptive nature of the language utilized by the State would lead the Court to believe they are merely requesting a `clarification' of the Court's ruling," wrote Tripp's lawyers.

In her decision, Leasure found that Lewinsky was tainted by Tripp's immunized testimony to federal officials and is allowed to testify only about whether she gave Tripp consent to tape her.

tate prosecutors were relying on Lewinsky to date a conversation Tripp recorded from her Columbia home Dec. 22, 1997. The date of the conversation is essential because prosecutors must prove Tripp knew it was illegal to tape others without their consent.

The earliest they can prove that is in late November 1997.

Defense lawyers also argued in their motion that under Maryland law Leasure doesn't have the authority to clarify her ruling and asserted that her ruling is clear.

"The State now shamelessly, and without contrition, comes before this Court and requests that this Honorable Court set aside its most recent ruling," the lawyers wrote. "The Court clearly set forth its findings of fact and conclusion of law."

Shortly after the ruling, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said he didn't believe Lewinsky was permitted to testify that her voice was on the tape. But in a motion he filed Friday, he said Leasure's order "implicitly allows testimony identifying and authenticating the conversation."

`What the judge meant'

In that motion, Montanarelli said it is "essential" to his case that Lewinsky be allowed to identify the conversation. That would require Lewinsky to testify that her voice and Tripp's are on the tape. She would also have to testify that the conversation took place over the telephone and that Tripp was at home.

State prosecutors also are asking Leasure to allow Lewinsky to identify and authenticate a partial transcript of that conversation, which appeared in a Newsweek magazine article in February 1998.

"We asked for a clarification because we wanted to know what the judge meant," McDonough said. "I don't know what she's going to do. That's why we asked for a clarification."

Even if state prosecutors persuade Leasure to allow Lewinsky to identify the conversation, they have many hurdles and other motions to overcome.

Postponement sought

Defense lawyer Joseph Murtha has said he would seek to postpone the case until next year because he has more motions to file.

Tripp was indicted in July on two counts of violating Maryland's wiretapping statute for secretly recording the Dec. 22, 1997, conversation with the former White House intern and then having her attorney disclose its contents to Newsweek.

That disclosure exposed a sexual relationship between Lewinsky and President Clinton, leading to his impeachment.

Tripp turned that tape and others over to Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr. She was granted immunity for her cooperation with Starr's office.

Tripp's defense lawyers have been trying to throw out the case against their client, asserting that state prosecutors improperly used her immunized testimony against her. State prosecutors were precluded from using that testimony or information derived from it.

After a series of hearings, Leasure ruled that two witnesses were tainted by Tripp's immunity. One of those was Lewinsky.

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