WASHINGTON -- Saying she wants to fight on and expects to win "my day in court," Paula Corbin Jones said yesterday that she will appeal her sexual misconduct case against President Clinton to a federal appeals court.
"I am confident that the [appeals court] will rule that my case should be heard by a jury," Jones said in a tearful two-minute statement to reporters in Dallas. She expressed concern, however, about "the continuing strain on my family and me."
Her case was dismissed two weeks ago by a federal judge in Little Rock, Ark., who ruled that Jones had proved no part of her case and was not entitled to a trial.
Jones' decision to appeal will prolong for perhaps a year or more her 4-year-old lawsuit, which grew out of an alleged incident in a Little Rock hotel room in 1991 and has long been a source of embarrassment for the president. Jones, then an Arkansas state employee, alleges that Clinton, then the governor, dropped his trousers and asked her to perform oral sex -- an accusation he denies.
Meanwhile, Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel who is investigating alleged sexual misbehavior by Clinton and possible criminal attempts to cover it up in the Jones case, said yesterday that "the end is not yet in sight" for his inquiry.
Because of the time his investigation is taking, Starr said he has turned down offers of two deanships from Pepperdine University -- offers that have been surrounded in controversy and that figured in ethical questions raised by the Justice Department recently about Starr's investigation.
The independent counsel indicated that he had decided to withdraw from the Pepperdine jobs even before the Justice Department challenged the propriety of his relationship with Richard Mellon Scaife, a major Pepperdine donor and longtime conservative critic of Clinton.
Starr's case unaffected
Starr insisted yesterday that his criminal investigation of whether the president lied under oath and sought to induce perjury in the Jones case would not be affected by Jones' plans to appeal. The two, Starr said, are independent matters -- a description Clinton partisans dispute.
As Jones announced her plans yesterday, a note of quiet defiance crept into her voice as she declared: "I have not come this far to see the law let men who have done such things dodge their responsibility. The court's ruling affects many women other than me."
Her chief lawyer, Donovan Campbell, said: "We have no questions or reservations about going forward from a legal standpoint. We think the case is strong for reversal of this judgment."
Clinton's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, said yesterday: "We are confident that the appellate court will not permit Paula Jones and her supporters to pursue this case." He denounced the appeal as a further example of "abuse" of the legal system by those "who wish to harm the president."
The president, traveling in Chile yesterday, said the Jones case was part of a "very unusual political environment. I'm just not going to let the politics get in my way."
Jones' decision to appeal was not a surprise, although the confidence that she and her attorneys voiced about eventually winning appears not to be widely shared by lawyers who specialize in sexual harassment cases.
Several of those lawyers suggested yesterday that her appeal has a slim chance of succeeding, and then only if higher courts expand sexual harassment law.
Applying current law, the federal judge who dismissed Jones' lawsuit concluded that Jones had suffered no apparent job discrimination or emotional distress as a result of the alleged incident and that the encounter was not severe enough to amount to illegal harassment.
"Under current law," said Michael C. Subit, a Washington lawyer who represents plaintiffs in harassment cases, "most judges would rule as Judge [Susan Webber] Wright did." Subit said he wished the higher courts would expand protection as Jones wants, but he said he did not expect it.
'A conservative court'
Noting that the court to which Jones' appeal now goes, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, is "a conservative court," Subit added: "It has a fairly narrow view of sexual harassment. I would not expect it suddenly to take an expansive, activist and progressive view."
Yolanda Wu, a staff attorney for the NOW Legal Defense Fund, a women's rights advocacy group, said she was "fairly hopeful" that the law will be expanded, and agreed that such an expansion would have to occur for Jones' appeal to succeed.
Wu said the fate of Jones' appeal might rest, at least partly, on the outcome of a sexual harassment case from Illinois that will be heard Wednesday by the Supreme Court. That case tests whether a worker can claim sexual harassment if threatened with retaliation for resisting a sexual advance but suffers no loss of a job or benefits.