WASHINGTON -- After weeks of headline-grabbing legal filings by both sides in the Paula Corbin Jones case, the federal judge overseeing the case yesterday ordered them both to knock it off.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright issued an order saying she cannot ignore that lawyers for both President Clinton and Jones have "filed a number of contentious pleadings and have perhaps engaged in activities in violation of court orders."
Specifically, lawyers for Jones and Clinton have exchanged a tit-for-tat series of pleadings that made public scandalous claims about the president and his alleged sexual liaisons and raised questions about his accusers.
Wright said she was "on the verge" of ruling on President Clinton's motion to dismiss Jones' sexual misconduct lawsuit. The case is scheduled to go to trial May 27 in Little Rock, Ark.
The judge said neither side should publicize "any pleading, past, present or future, which reveals the identity of any Jane Doe."
She appeared to be referring specifically to a filing Saturday by Jones' lawyers that disclosed the name of a woman who had been linked to an alleged sexual episode with Clinton 20 years ago. The woman has denied the allegation.
Wright warned that anyone found in contempt of her orders would be punished.
She also directed that no future legal filings should be made public before they are filed in the federal court in Little Rock or are in her hands.
She singled out Jones' attorneys for making public one of their filings Saturday -- in time for media coverage in broad-circulation Sunday newspapers and television talk shows.
In fact, she complained in her order: "The court has not yet seen the pleadings filed by the plaintiff in a drop box in Pine Bluff, Ark., on March 28, 1998."
In some ways, Wright had little choice but to issue this order, lest it appear that both sides were taking advantage of her.
"This type of order represents a shot across the bow for counsel to take care in their future movements and disclosures in this case," said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor. "Judge Wright's order is a predictable response to remind the parties of their obligations to the court and signal the court's displeasure with the conduct in the case."
And that could be a problem, especially for Jones' lawyers.
"It is not uncommon for courts to move aggressively toward summary judgment decisions when they grow tired of the conduct of counsel in a case," Turley said. "When a judge refers to summary judgment motions in this type of warning memorandum, it sends a strong signal to counsel [not] to impose upon the patience of a judge."
In a related development, two White House employees appeared again before a Washington grand jury investigating Clinton and allegations of sex and perjury.
Marsha Scott, a longtime Clinton friend, told reporters after testifying that appearing before the grand jury is "intimidating and very frightening and isolating." She told reporters the process "harasses people."
Scott oversees personnel at the White House. Nancy Hernreich, director of Oval Office operations, also testified yesterday.
In a related development, Jones' lawyers filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis, challenging Wright's decision March 9 to exclude evidence about the former White House intern Monica Lewinsky from Jones' trial.
Jones' lawyers said they want to use the Lewinsky evidence, even if it means postponing the trial. They said Clinton wants to fTC push the case to trial before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation is complete.
Starr had asked that the gathering of Lewinsky evidence be delayed in the Jones case because it would disrupt his more important investigation. Wright ruled it was unfair to Clinton to delay the trial and that the evidence was "not essential to the core issues of the [Jones] case."
But Jones' lawyers said that Wright's orders "elevate White House damage control to constitutional heights while ignoring the fundamental rights of Mrs. Jones as upheld by the Supreme Court."
Pub Date: 4/01/98