Jones and Busy President Clinton
by Victoria Toensing
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
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
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.
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.
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