Jones' suit is delayed until after election Supreme Court agrees to decide if Clinton can face trial in office

June 25, 1996|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a legal order that gives President Clinton a significant political victory, the Supreme Court agreed yesterday to consider his claim that the sexual misconduct case against him should be put off until he leaves office.

By granting a review of his immunity claim in the case filed by Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, the court gave the president these advantages as he seeks re-election:

It assured that nothing will happen in the potentially embarrassing case until after the Nov. 5 election. The court will not hold a hearing on it until January, keeping in effect a lower-court order that blocked the lawsuit in the meantime. That means there will be no questioning of Clinton about the alleged 1991 incident that led to Jones' suit.

It will scuttle for now any chance that the president's lawyers will discuss an out-of-court settlement with Jones' attorneys, an idea that has been raised from time to time.

The president learned of the court's action during a conference he was attending in Nashville, Tenn. His spokesman, Mike McCurry said, "The White House is pleased that the court has recognized the merits in the petition" seeking constitutional immunity while Clinton is president.

The court might never rule on Clinton's constitutional claim if he should lose his re-election bid; Clinton is not claiming immunity to extend beyond his White House service. But he still would have to face a trial or make a deal to settle.

Should he win re-election, the case would unfold after he was into a second term, but it could affect his place in history, weaken his effectiveness in office and impair his dealings with Congress -- pressures that might make a settlement more likely.

Jones' suit -- in a state of limbo almost since it was filed two years ago because of Clinton's immunity claim -- is based on an incident that she says occurred in a Little Rock, Ark., hotel room in 1991. At the time, Clinton was governor and Jones was a state employee.

She contends that the president made unwanted sexual advances and then urged her to keep the encounter secret. She has sued Clinton as well as an Arkansas state trooper, Danny Ferguson, who she says helped arrange the hotel-room encounter.

The president's private lawyers have said that the incident did not occur and have accused Jones and her lawyers of using the courts for "tabloid trash."

Joseph Cammarata, one of Jones' attorneys, predicted that "the eventual decision is going to be a clear affirmation that we as American citizens are all equal in the eyes of the law."

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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