Woman sues Clinton over alleged advances

May 07, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun Nelson Schwartz in Washington and Michael Haddigan in Little Rock contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton was put on the defensive about his character once again yesterday when a former Arkansas state employee filed a lawsuit alleging that he made an aggressive and unwanted sexual advance toward her three years ago.

In a graphic sexual-harassment complaint filed in federal court in Little Rock, Paula Corbin Jones alleges that Mr. Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, had a state trooper bring her to a hotel room, where Mr. Clinton solicited sex from her -- a solicitation that she says culminated in Mr. Clinton's exposing himself.

At a news conference at his Washington office, Robert S. Bennett, a lawyer for Mr. Clinton, denigrated the lawsuit on technical merits and described it as a "vicious and mean-spirited" publicity stunt.

Mr. Bennett also denounced conservatives who have been advising Ms. Jones and suggested that the motives for the lawsuit are either to hinder Mr. Clinton politically or financial gain for Ms. Jones.

As he has earlier, Mr. Bennett, asserted that the events described by Ms. Jones did not happen.

"The president has no recollection of ever meeting [her]," Mr. Bennett said. He added that it was possible that Mr. Clinton and Ms. Jones were together in the hotel room in question -- the room was set up as a temporary office -- but insisted, "There was no inappropriate or sexu- al conduct with this woman."

Mr. Bennett's mood was defiant. But the lawsuit, which presidential historians say is unprecedented, seemed to deepen the sense inside and outside the White House that this is a president under attack.

"For Bill Clinton, what this means is a perpetual low-grade toothache that is not going to go away," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. Asked about the lawsuit yesterday at a photo session in the Oval Office, Mr. Clinton replied: "I don't have anything to add to what Mr. Bennett said. . . . I'm not going to dignify this by commenting on it."

Ms. Jones did not appear before reporters in Little Rock yesterday, when her suit was filed on the last day before the three-year statute of limitations expired.

But one of her two newly appointed attorneys, Joseph Cammarata of Fairfax, Va., read a statement saying she would donate to charity any financial compensation she receives.

'Not about money'

"This case is not about money," the statement said. "This case is about character and integrity. This case is about the powerful taking advantage of the weak."

The other one of her two lawyers who abruptly entered the case this week was Gilbert K. Davis, a former assistant U.S. attorney ++ in Northern Virginia who practices in Fairfax. He was described by colleagues as a skilled trial lawyer and as a Republican, but not a party activist.

"He's comfortable with the bib-overall crowd," said Frank Dunham, who worked alongside Mr. Davis in the U.S. attorney's office in the early 1970s.

Mr. Dunham said Mr. Davis often tries cases in Kentucky, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. "This guy is country all the way."

Mr. Bennett, by contrast, is a renowned Washington "super-lawyer" whose top-of-the-line legal fees will now become the personal responsibility of the president. Mr. Bennett said he would file motions to try to dismiss the case.

But his client's immediate problem is opinion polls showing that only a third of the electorate believes that Mr. Clinton has a "good" sense of ethics and moral values.

Allegations surrounding Mr. Clinton's sex life were first aired during the 1992 presidential campaign, when another former Arkansas state employee, Gennifer Flowers, said she and Mr. Clinton had a 12-year affair and that Mr. Clinton got her a job to keep her quiet.

Mr. Clinton denied that allegation, but all but admitted extra-marital affairs in an extraordinary prime-time TV appearance with his wife. His election, aides said, proved that Americans were uninterested in such personal revelations.

But the accusations made since he became president involve more serious questions: Did Mr. Clinton use the Arkansas State Police to pick up women for him? And do his actions constitute the kind of abusive behavior toward women that he has denounced during the Tailhook scandal and on other occasions?

The allegations

According to Ms. Jones' lawsuit, she met Mr. Clinton on May 8, 1991, when she was working at the registration desk at Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel for the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission.

A state trooper in Mr. Clinton's security detail, identified in the lawsuit as Danny Ferguson, approached Ms. Jones and a friend and talkedawhile.

Later, the suit alleges, the trooper reappeared at the registration desk, delivered a piece of paper to Ms. Jones with a four-digit number on it and said, "The governor would like to meet with you."

Ms. Jones, who then earned $6.35 a hour in her state secretarial job, said she went to the hotel suite, hoping it could mean a promotion. Mr. Ferguson, also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, stayed in the hall.

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