Judge postpones release of Clinton-Jones papers 'Media circus' argument wins delay for president

July 10, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge, reacting to fears voiced by President Clinton's lawyers of a "media circus," put off yesterday her plan to release scores of sealed documents in Paula Corbin Jones' sexual misconduct case against Clinton.

As a result, hundreds of pages of never-disclosed papers -- many of them likely to be embarrassing to the president -- will not become public Monday, as U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright had ordered earlier.

Wright said yesterday that she would not release any of the papers for at least two weeks, while she studies a plea by the president's lawyers that she reconsider the issue. The new development rebuffs an effort by 14 media organizations to obtain access to a vast array of evidence gathered when the Jones case appeared headed for trial.

On April 1, Wright dismissed Jones' lawsuit without a trial, saying Jones could not prove that Clinton acted illegally when, according to Jones, he made a crude sexual overture toward her in 1991 when he was Arkansas governor and she was a state employee. Jones is seeking to revive her lawsuit with an appeal.

Media want sex-case records

With the lawsuit dismissed, media groups asked to see everything that had been filed in the case. Jones' lawyers had gathered many sworn statements alleging that Clinton has a history of extramarital sex. And lawyers for a state trooper who was also sued in the case had accumulated evidence about Jones' personal life.

Late last month, Wright agreed to open much of the sealed material but ordered the names of private individuals who did not want to be identified be edited out.

Some of the material under seal had come out as the Jones case developed. But Clinton's lawyers said this week that "much remains" that has not been disclosed and that the release of it would aid efforts to harm the president "for profit and personal gain."

'Mockery of judicial system'

In asking Wright to reconsider her plan to release the papers, Clinton's attorneys warned that "the media's desperate need for 'news' " would result in "a media circus" of "10-hours-a-day of reporting, misreporting and displaying of unsealed material." The lawyers also suggested that Jones' defenders would misuse the material, making "a mockery of the judicial system."

This week, Jones gained support for her appeal from a women's rights group -- a maverick chapter, based in Northern Virginia, of the National Organization for Women. The Dulles Area Chapter's support breaks from a decision by NOW's national leaders not to join in Jones' case, on the ground that the case had been taken over by "disreputable right-wing organizations and individuals."

The appeals court allowed the NOW chapter to join in the case as a friend-of-the-court backing Jones, after Clinton's and Jones' lawyers said they did not object.

Pub Date: 7/10/98

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