Panel calls for Clinton disbarment

Tuesday, May 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

His lawyer disputes finding tied to Jones

WASHINGTON - President Clinton should be disbarred for "serious misconduct" in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-misconduct case, a committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court recommended Monday.

In a crisp one-page letter, the Committee on Professional Conduct asked the state high court to begin disbarment proceedings against the president, who is still a member of the Arkansas bar.

The recommendation now goes to a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge in Little Rock, Ark., for consideration. If that judge disbars Mr. Clinton, either he or the Southeastern Legal Foundation in Atlanta may appeal.

Mr. Clinton, who was at the White House preparing to host a state dinner for South African President Thabo Mbeki, had no immediate comment. But his attorney, David Kendall, disputed the finding in a statement released by the White House.

"This recommendation is wrong and clearly contradicted by precedent," Mr. Kendall said. "We will vigorously dispute it in a court of law."

In Atlanta, Matthew Glavin, president of the legal foundation that challenged the president's law license, said he was saddened by the turn of events but nonetheless heartened that the disciplinary panel had issued a "serious sanction."

"The system works," Mr. Glavin said.

After 20 months, he said, "the committee's decision sends a message to the American people that the rules which govern attorney conduct will be enforced."

The committee's letter to the clerk of the Arkansas Supreme Court was signed by executive director James Neal, who also announced his retirement on Monday.

The committee of 14 lawyers and nonlawyers normally has seven members. But because of Mr. Clinton's lifelong ties to the state, including serving as its attorney general and governor, eight of the members disqualified themselves because of potential conflicts of interests. The other members met on Friday to consider the complaint filed by the legal foundation and one other by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright.

Judge Wright, who cited Mr. Clinton for civil contempt and fined him $90,000 for giving "intentionally false" testimony in the Jones case, did not seek any specific penalty in her referral to the committee. The legal foundation sought his disbarment for "willful professional misconduct by lying under oath in a court of law."

Mr. Clinton is the first president ever cited for contempt. His deposition testimony led to his impeachment in the House. He was acquitted in the Senate.

Mr. Clinton's troubles stemmed from his statements during a January 1998 deposition in Mrs. Jones' now-settled sexual-misconduct lawsuit in which he denied having any "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky.

Seven months later, the president acknowledged that he had had "inappropriate intimate contact" with the former White House intern.

Mrs. Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, sued the president in 1994, claiming the then-governor had made an inappropriate sexual advance three years earlier. The president, who denied Mrs. Jones' claim, settled the case in 1998 for $850,000.

One of Mrs. Jones' lawyers in the case against the president, Dallas attorney Donovan Campbell, said Monday:

"I don't think we had any idea how this would turn out. In terms of are we satisified, I suppose we'll just wait and see what the county court and Supreme Court do."

"I would say that committing contempt of court by giving false testimony under oath designed to obstruct the judicial process is a serious charge for any grievance committee to weigh and it should certainly be within the committee's discretion to recommend disbarment against any attorney guilty of such conduct," Mr. Campbell said.