Jones' lawyers may seek up to $500,000 from Clinton

Claim for reimbursement must be filed by May 3

April 22, 1999|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones are considering asking a federal judge to assess President Clinton between $350,000 and $500,000 for contempt of court in Jones' sexual-harassment lawsuit, according to a source on her legal team.

While that range is only "a rough estimate," according to the source, who refused to be identified, her attorneys are discussing a sizable claim as they move toward a May 3 deadline for submitting it.

An assessment anywhere close to that range would be vigorously challenged by the president's attorneys, and if the judge endorsed it, a legal fight over her authority to punish the president could be in the offing, a White House legal source indicated.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright took the historic step this month of holding Clinton in contempt, finding that he gave intentionally false testimony under oath in the Jones case.

In an unprecedented ruling, she decided -- without asking either side for its views on her power to do so -- that there is "no constitutional barrier to holding the president in civil contempt of court and imposing sanctions."

She said Clinton had given "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process." He did so, the judge found, when he denied having had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky -- a relationship that Jones' lawyers wanted to use to show that Clinton had engaged in sexual misconduct with other women.

Jones' lawsuit, later dismissed by the judge, claimed that Clinton made a crude sexual advance toward her in 1991 when he was Arkansas governor and she was a low-level state employee.

Wright ordered Clinton to pay "any reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees" that Jones' legal team had as a result of the president's obstruction.

The Jones source said the attorneys have been "kicking around figures" and expect to have a firmer estimate next week of what they will seek.

The president's lawyers have not yet decided what to do about the judge's contempt ruling, according to a White House source.

It is likely, the Clinton source said, that they will decide not to appeal the contempt part of the ruling, but they are holding off a final decision until after they see what Jones' lawyers seek.

Sun national staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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