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Judge Ruling on Tripp Case

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — Linda Tripp's wiretapping troubles could soon be eased or even erased by a Maryland judge.

The judge in the case must decide whether to throw out certain evidence — including testimony from the prosecution's star witness, Monica Lewinsky — or dismiss the charges altogether. She also could allow the case to proceed to trial in July as planned.

Circuit Judge Diane Leasure said she expects to rule by Friday afternoon.

A grand jury indicted Tripp on July 30 on two counts of breaking Maryland wiretap law. Prosecutors allege she illegally recorded a conversation with Lewinsky in 1997 and disclosed the tape's contents to Newsweek magazine a few weeks later.

The tapes, recorded from the living room of Tripp's Columbia, Md., home, triggered Kenneth Starr's investigation into Lewinsky's affair with President Clinton.

Maryland law prohibits the interception of telephone conversations without the consent of both parties.

If convicted, Tripp could face 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. She is the only major figure in the Clinton sex scandal to face criminal charges.

Tripp received a grant of immunity from federal prosecution, but that didn't stop Maryland authorities from bringing a case against her. Maryland prosecutors were forced, however, to gather their own evidence, independent of anything Tripp provided to Starr.

Defense attorneys argued the judge should dismiss the case because it was hopelessly tainted by evidence from the Starr investigation. Tripp's attorneys say Lewinsky's testimony was partially derived from Tripp's immunized testimony, and that prosecutors made no attempt to shield the Maryland grand jurors from news of the Starr investigation.

Lewinsky testified in December that she independently recalled the date of the crucial telephone conversation Tripp is charged with illegally taping. But Lewinsky told prosecutors in writing in August 1998 that the information came from Tripp's immunized statements to Starr.

Lewinsky's testimony is considered crucial because she established that Tripp made the tapes without her consent.

Tripp attorney Joseph Murtha said throwing out Lewinsky's testimony would amount to a virtual dismissal of the case.

``If the judge suppresses the testimony of Monica Lewinsky, the state will have to come up with some innovative ways to actually prosecute Linda Tripp,'' he said Thursday.

Prosecutor thomas M. McDonough said: ``If the judge suppresses significant evidence, that's going to create some problems for us. Certainly it's going to make things more difficult.''


On the Net:

Court system: http://www.courts.state.md.us/howard/index.html

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