Clinton team sees clashes to come in Jones' suit President can't testify, do job, lawyers say

January 24, 1996|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's lawyers, trying anew to delay a sexual misconduct lawsuit against him, yesterday forecast a series of "constitutional clashes" between him and a federal judge over running the presidency if he also must defend himself in court.

The clashes, the president's private attorneys contend, could involve who gets to decide how Mr. Clinton spends his time and which of his official duties receives priority for his attention.

Mr. Clinton, a federal appeals court was told, cannot perform his presidential duties and simultaneously take part in defending himself against the lawsuit filed by a former Arkansas state employee, Paula Corbin Jones.

Inevitably, the president's official calendar would conflict with court dates or proceedings, his attorneys contended.

Ms. Jones has sued the president and an Arkansas state trooper, alleging that she was the target of unwanted sexual advances by Mr. Clinton at a Little Rock hotel in 1991 when he was governor of Arkansas. She is seeking $700,000 in damages.

In papers filed yesterday with the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis, the president's attorneys asked all 11 members of the court to reconsider a Jan. 9 ruling by a three-judge panel of that court that cleared Ms. Jones' lawsuit to go forward.

The panel ruled by a 2-1 vote that Mr. Clinton has no immunity to the lawsuit and is not entitled to any delays, either. If that ruling goes into effect, Mr. Clinton could be forced to start answering questions from Ms. Jones' lawyers.

Mr. Clinton wants the case postponed until he has left office, one or five years from now. The president's White House advisers are clearly concerned that the case could unfold in the midst of Mr. Clinton's re-election campaign.

The appeals court panel's refusal to allow any delays left Mr. Clinton with the options first of asking the full court to step in and then, if that failed, to take the dispute on to the Supreme Court.

If his challenge goes all the way through that process, a final ruling could be put off until next year.

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