AP Special Correspondent
Friday, September 4, 1998; 5:54 p.m. EDT SANTA MONICA, Calif. A judge Friday refused to further delay Whitewater figure Susan McDougal's embezzlement trial, saying the defense had been given enough time to prepare for the case.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Mrs. McDougal is charged with embezzling $150,000 from conductor Zubin Mehta and his wife. She is also charged with tax fraud involving her employment as bookkeeper and personal assistant to the Mehtas from 1989 to 1992.
The case was filed five years ago and has been delayed repeatedly.
It is unrelated to the investigation by Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, which has involved Mrs. McDougal, 43, a former business partner of President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At a hearing Friday, Superior Court Judge Leslie Light said the prosecution may pursue a theory that Mrs. McDougal had a motive to forge credit cards and checks on Nancy Mehta's account.
He said the theory would be that Mrs. McDougal had become accustomed to a "high lifestyle," did not have the money to maintain it and could not get credit on her own.
Light said the prosecution would claim Mrs. McDougal made fraudulent credit applications listing her sister and Mrs. Mehta to try to get a credit card.
"We're not going to have great controversy over what checks she wrote and what credit cards she used," the judge said. "The question is was it authorized by the Mehtas, as the defense will claim, or was it not authorized?"
"The issue boils down to the credibility of Mrs. McDougal and Mrs. Mehta," he told the lawyers.
Mrs. McDougal said nothing during the hearing.
A gag order prevents involved the parties from commenting on the case, but defense attorney Mark Geragos was asked outside court why Mrs. McDougal has not spoken out on the controversy surrounding Clinton.
"Susan is focused on this case and once this case is over you won't be able to keep a lid on her," Geragos said. "She has a lot to say."
Mrs. McDougal spent nearly two years behind bars rather than testify before the federal grand jury investigating Clinton. She also served 3 1/2 months of a two-year sentence for fraudulently obtaining a government-backed loan in 1986.
She still faces federal trial in Arkansas, where she was charged with criminal contempt for refusing to testify before Starr's grand jury.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press