WASHINGTON — Kenneth W. Starr may be gone from the independent counsel's office, but he's certainly not been forgotten.
A Connecticut lawyer's campaign to have Starr sanctioned for alleged misconduct during his investigation into President Clinton's financial and personal affairs has been picking up steam.
In the latest development, all seven federal judges in Little Rock, Ark., have recused themselves from the case. That city has been the center of the lengthy Whitewater investigation.
One of the judges, Susan Webber Wright, recently asked an appellate judge to assign complaints against the former independent counsel to a judge outside Arkansas. Judge Roger N. Wollman of the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to act soon.
Starr resigned in October, and Robert W. Ray--one of his top assistants--was named to complete the investigation. But Starr's nemesis in Connecticut, state public defender Frank Mandanici, says he still wants Starr to be reprimanded or disbarred for his conduct during his five years in office.
Mandanici's persistence has given legal voice to critics of Starr, who say his inquiry into the Clintons' affairs was heavy-handed and unethical.
Since Wright held the president in contempt of court for giving false testimony, it's only fair that Starr should get his comeuppance, argues Mandanici, a registered Democrat and self-described "outspoken radical" on questions of legal ethics. But he ran into a roadblock several months ago when Wright and two fellow jurists denied his petition for a probe of Starr on grounds that the lawyer had no "standing"--a legal term meaning Mandanici had not been personally damaged by Starr.
But Mandanici solved that problem by enlisting support from two others who did have personal grievances--Julie Hiatt Steele and Stephen A. Smith.
Steele is a former friend of onetime White House volunteer Kathleen Willey, who had alleged that Clinton groped her in the Oval Office. Steele originally supported Willey's story but later recanted under oath--a recantation that Starr charged was a lie to help the president.
Steele's trial on obstruction charges ended in a mistrial in May. In court papers filed by her attorney, Steele said that Starr's prosecutors "provided her with a choice--she could say what they wanted her to say [to damage the president] or be indicted."
Her attorney, Nancy Luque, said in a brief supporting Mandanici that "such conduct violates the ethical rules that prohibit lawyers from engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."
Smith, a former Clinton aide, pleaded guilty in 1995 to a misdemeanor charge stemming from Starr's investigation. In a brief backing Mandanici, Smith said: "I was provided a written script, containing false testimony, by the Office of Independent Counsel, and this script was to be read by me as my testimony under oath to a federal grand jury."
Smith first leveled this charge during the trial of Susan McDougal in April. McDougal, a former business partner of the Clintons, subsequently was cleared by a Little Rock jury of obstruction charges for her refusal to testify before Starr's grand jury.
Starr's lawyers respond that they never sought to compel witnesses to tell anything but the truth.
In a 60-page petition filed in June, Mandanici also accused Starr of conflict of interest for serving as independent counsel while also representing tobacco company clients who were doing legal battle with the president. In addition, he charged that Starr abused his power by "aggressively advocating" Clinton's impeachment--an accusation leveled by Starr's own ethics counsel, former Senate Watergate counsel Sam Dash, when he resigned from Starr's staff.
Mandanici has based his anti-Starr campaign on a federal law that allows for "disciplinary enforcement" by judges where abuses of power can be shown. His critics, however, claim it's a personal vendetta that will produce nothing.