The fate of the Iran-Contra case appeared to rest with the Supreme Court after the trial judge denounced a compromise plan to limit the use of classified evidence by former White House aide Oliver North.
"(The) trial shall await further action by the U.S. Supreme Court," Judge Gerhard Gesell ruled on Tuesday after he criticized the proposal for interfering with North's constitutional right to a fair trial.If the judge had accepted the plan calling for stricter controls on the secret evidence that North may introduce in his defense, the Bush administration would have dropped its appeal and the trial would have resumed immediately.
The Justice Department has appealed to the Supreme Court to require procedures that would prohibit North's lawyers from disclosing secret information in open court before government lawyers have a chance to try to suppress it.
The nine-member high court plans to consider at its private conference Friday whether the trial of North, the key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, can go forward.
Since the jury was chosed last week, the trial has been disrupted by the administration's sudden intervention in the case, demanding that nine broad categories of classified information be protected against disclosure.
North's attorneys said one category, which they described as the heart of their defense, involved secret information on how former President Reagan and his top aides solicited millitary support to the Contras from foreign nations and then hid the arrangements.
Gesell denounced the compromise plan that would have allowed the administration to interrupt the trial.
"The court, for better or worse, is committed to the traditional values established under the Constitution for the protections of a defendant in a criminal case," he said.
"It is the right of every citizen to have a fair trial, to present their defense fairly and fully," he said. "This is not a country where the entire script of the trial is worked out in advance and the judge plays a role to some pre-determined conclusion."
After the hearing, the judge isssued a two-page ruling reaffirming that the case would be run by the independent special prosecutor, not by administration lawyers or Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.
No further hearings are expected until the Supreme Court acts.