By Rachel Alexander
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 10, 1997

The Symington Trial: Beyond the Superficial Glance

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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Rachel Alexander

Now that the trial of Governor Symington has reached its inevitable conclusion, the city newspapers solicit and publish the opinion of selected residents regardless of their knowledge of the facts behind the trial. "I haven't been following the case, but I'm sure he got what he deserved" is a typical quote. It appears that everyone in society is entitled to voice their opinion on a topic, no matter how uninformed they are on the subject. The question remains in the minds of critical thinkers, what were the facts that led to the indictments and was the trial and its eventual outcome reasonable?

In 1995 Symington filed for bankruptcy because his real estate investments did not produce enough income to allow him to sustain the loans. Despite the fact that this was a fairly common occurrence, because of the real estate slump at the time, and Symington only one part of the failed Southwest Savings & Loan, which was responsible for most of his loans, S & L Regulators encouraged the FBI to investigate Symington individually for criminal wrong doing. The FBI coincidentally dropped its probe against Southwest Savings & Loan later (regarding the Esplanade real estate), yet Symington was found guilty by the jury on four counts involved here.

Since there was no specific statute which Symington violated, the prosecution turned to broad ones, cleverly using words such as "fraud" and "extortion" in the hope that the media would run with the story and spread negative propaganda for them. I originally had a difficult time associating the newspaper headlines with the text of the articles because the substance of a given article would not support the accusation made by the headline.

The 21 counts against Symington were repetitive accusations that he submitted differing valuations on his personal financial statements for the property he owned to his various lenders. There are no strict guidelines or laws regarding this reporting and the range of values of a given property will depend on the time and type of the appraisal. Additional factors to consider are the cost of improvements, the predicted cost of improvements, the length of time the property has been on the market, and whether the value specified is the estate taxation value, the sale of property value, or the real estate taxes condemnation value. These were the difficult concepts that the jurors were asked to grapple with, and none of the jurors came from a real estate background.

The media treatment of Ms. Jane Cotey, the juror who was dismissed during final deliberations, clearly shows a hidden agenda. Only one paper out of five read by this author, the Mesa Tribune, actually interviewed her. This interview revealed that juror Cotey was leaning toward acquittal on all of the counts against Symington. The jury needed unanimity to find Symington guilty on even one of the charges. It is easy to find against the "rich Republican guy," especially when the jury is composed of 6 registered Democrats and only 3 registered Republicans.

Amazingly, the major Arizona newspapers did not bother to interview Cotey herself, but instead took the word of the other jurors who said she was unable to grasp the complexities of the testimony. There were two different explanations for the juror's removal, yet little or no credence was attributed to Cotey. This is unfortunate, because I believe her dismissal, under the circumstances, is the reason why this case will be remanded for retrial on appeal, to the surprise of the media and their misinformed readers.

One bit of irony that has not gone unnoticed is how diligently the U.S. Attorney and press have pursued Symington when, in another failed real estate deal involving a high government official and his wife, there seems to be less enthusiasm and zeal in the search for the truth. One does not have to look too hard to see the media bias when it comes to protecting the Clintons, even with ample evidence and numerous convictions of other key players in the Whitewater scandal. Clinton and his partner at the time, James McDougal (currently in federal prison), purchased a piece of land in Arkansas as a joint venture. Clinton contributed only $500 of his own money. The rest was paid for with loans from several banks. These loans were then repaid with loans from McDougal's Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, who had as their attorneys the Rose Law firm of which Hillary was a partner. When Madison failed, U.S. taxpayers picked up the tab. 18 USC 1344 makes it a crime to obtain funds from a federally insured lending institution under false or fraudulent pretenses. Unlike Symington's sprawling Phoenix developments, Clinton produced nothing out of Whitewater.

It is unfortunate that the media has co-opted the facts in this trial. From the beginning, the media has portrayed Symington as a crook, declaring him guilty before the trial even started. Their 5-star effort has got Republicans tripping over Democrats in the rush to apologize to the media regarding Symington. It is sad when partisan politics, and the mean desire to see someone fail because they are successful, outweigh objectivity.

Rachel Alexander is a second-year law student.


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