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McDougal Trial Begins

Susan McDougal's embezzlement trial began Monday with the judge warning 75 prospective jurors that the defendant's connection to the Whitewater case and President Clinton has "no part whatsoever in this trial."

Mrs. McDougal, 43, is charged with stealing $150,000 while working as a bookkeeper and personal assistant to conductor Zubin Mehta and his wife, Nancy.

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The former Whitewater business partner of Clinton's is accused of using the Mehtas' credit cards to buy herself clothing, travel and other luxuries. The defense is expected to argue Mrs. Mehta authorized Mrs. McDougal to make the expenditures.

The case covers Mrs. McDougal's employment from 1989 to 1992 and has no legal connection to Whitewater, the 1980s Arkansas real estate venture that involved Mr. Clinton and his wife and Mrs. McDougal and her ex-husband, James.

Superior Court Judge Leslie Light told the prospective jurors Monday to disregard everything they may have heard about the Whitewater figure.

Mrs. McDougal, who spent nearly two years in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the president, has claimed the California case was promoted by Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr to pressure her to testify, an allegation Starr's side has denied.

Mrs. McDougal also served three and a half months of a two-year prison sentence for fraud-related Whitewater crimes involving a loan. A federal judge freed her in June because of painful back problems. She has remained under house arrest in Arkansas.

"I'm ready to be here. I'm glad to start the trial, but I'm hurting a little bit today," she said.

Written by Deborah Hastings