Clinton should be forced to answer lawsuit, accuser's lawyers say

July 14, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A woman who has sued President Clinton accused him yesterday of making a fanciful claim that he is immune to her lawsuit so that he could evade any public discussion of her claim of an unwanted sexual advance.

Paula Corbin Jones, the former Arkansas state employee pursuing a $700,000 claim over an alleged 1991 incident in a Little Rock hotel room, urged a federal judge in court papers to require Mr. Clinton's lawyers to spell out promptly -- not years from now -- his reply to her lawsuit.

The president's attorneys, however, have argued that the judge must act first on the legal-immunity issue before Mr. Clinton must say anything at all in court documents about Mrs. Jones' version of the incident.

If the judge grants the Clinton request, any discussion of what happened -- if anything -- with Mrs.Jones would be delayed until after an initial ruling on immunity, and perhaps years of resulting appeals.

The presidential legal maneuver, Mrs. Jones' attorneys said in their new court filing, "would delay this case for years."

Those lawyers added that a delay "carries with it the risk that memories will fade, evidence will disappear, witnesses will die or become hard to locate, and, in short, the case will become stale."

No U.S. citizen, "even one who happens to be president," is freed of the obligation of anyone who is sued to reply so that the courts may test the strength of the lawsuit's claims, Mrs. Jones' attorneys said.

The document argued that the immunity claim Mr. Clinton is asserting -- immunity that would postpone any action on the case until after he is no longer president -- is unprecedented. Mrs. Jones' lawyers said that they were "unaware of anyone in the history of this country who has been held immune fromsuit" for actions taken while that person was engaged in private activity.

Mrs. Jones' charges of a sexual advance go back to a time when Mr. Clinton was governor of Arkansas.

The president's lawyers are insisting that defending himself in a lawsuit would distract Mr. Clinton from his duties.

Mrs. Jones' lawyers argued that the only time the Supreme Court has granted a president immunity to civil lawsuits, a ruling in 1983, applied only to immunity to legal challenges over official actions. No court decision supports the "unique claim of immunity from suit involving pre-presidential acts," they contended.

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