Paula Jones and Busy President Clinton
by Victoria Toensing

 Is Bill Clinton too busy to be sued while he is President?  Next week the Supreme Court listens to lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones and President Bill Clinton argue that issue in Ms. Jones’s civil suit charging then Governor Clinton with sexually harassing and then defaming her.  Actually, the former state employee claims that in May 1991 an Arkansas state trooper on the Governor's security detail invited her on behalf of the Governor to the Little Rock Excelsior Hotel suite, an uncontroverted fact.  After the trooper escorted Ms. Jones to the suite, her employer, Governor Bill, unbelted and unzipped his pants, displaying a physical capacity to proceed immediately to sex.  She refused.

Two and a half years later, Ms. Jones says she read in a January 1994 magazine article that a state trooper told the author a woman named "Paula," whom he had escorted to the Governor's Excelsior Hotel room, offered to be the Governor's girlfriend and implied she had sex with Clinton.  Through her lawyer Ms. Jones demanded Clinton clear her reputation by acknowledging her rebuff.  He refused.

Just like the judge in Orenthal James Simpson's child custody suit, the Supreme Court cares not one whit whether William Jefferson Clinton did the ugly deed.  Rather, the nine Justices will decide whether the President's lawyers are correct in arguing that he should have complete immunity from trial, even from any pretrial discovery including taking depositions of other witnesses, until he leaves office.  Ms. Jones’s lawyers argue that where a nonofficial act is concerned Presidents should be treated like any other citizen and postponing trial for eight years jeopardizes her case because memories can dim, witnesses can die, and the justice she seeks in clearing her name is undeniably delayed.

The President contends that his answering to a lawsuit unduly interferes with the Executive for two reasons:  1) another branch of government, the Judiciary, should not intrude into the time schedule of the President and 2) he is just "too busy." Neither passes muster.

For fairness reasons, the first argument-- that a Court can never subject a President to its jurisdiction for acts not within his official responsibility-- fails.  Is it really Constitutionally required that if a President's spouse wants to dissolve the marriage, say for infidelity, she or he could not obtain a divorce and a decision on child custody during an eight year tenure?  Since there is no legal precedent for this issue, the Supreme Court must balance interests.  If a President has legal carte blanche for any reason whatsoever, what happens to the rights of an aggrieved party?  Where is the Constitutional balance if only the President, and no other citizen, is immune from his acts no matter how serious an accident, how large a debt, how truncated the court proceeding?

A political outcry has already diminished the President's lawyers' observation that putting litigation on hold for a certain time period is not unusual, just look at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 giving military personnel time out from being sued while serving their country.  For a President who evaded the draft this sidebar in his Supreme Court brief did not pass the laugh test. 

Similarly, the President’s lawyers’ second principal argument that the President is just "too busy" to go to trial starts the eyes to roll and the belly to bob.  It may be that there are a few hundred tasks Clinton would prefer to do than go to trial, like make Jell-O molds or watch putting green grass grow, but now that an election year chock-full of fund raising is behind him, the President has time to answer Ms. Jones’s allegations.  This is not a complex case with massive documents clouding issues and spanning years.  No, this is a simple factual matter covering a few hours in the life of a $6.35 an hour state employee and the Governor who had the power to fire her.  At most, this trial would take two weeks, and the President’s participation not more than two full days or 16 hours.  Presumably, he has already briefed the White House staff and his lawyers on the basic facts of his position because, on his behalf, all have publicly denied Ms. Jones’s allegations of what went on in Mr. Clinton’s parlor after she was delivered there.

Not only is the Presidential time required for further preparation and the actual trial minimal but given Clinton’s extra curricular activities last year, he has the time to spare in 1997.  With no election looming there should be no meetings with Taiwan or Thai fund raisers, no coffee klatches with foreign arms dealers to do a favor for “good ol’ “ Trie.  There should be no political fund raising letters to edit for the DNC and no four-day train ride to a three-day political convention in Chicago.  There should be no day-long meetings in the White House with political advisors to plan minute details of fundraising events.

In fact, given all the time the President will have to spare now that he no longer has to raise all that money and run for office, he could do several Paula Jones cases this year and still have plenty of time for writing another book, golfing at Burning Tree, hiking in Wyoming, and snorkeling in the Caribbean.

 

 

 

 

 

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