Clinton's lawyer rejects contempt settlement proposal

Bennett calls request `outrageous and greedy'

May 05, 1999|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's lawyers spurned a proposal by Paula Corbin Jones' lawyers this week that he pay $300,000 as a penalty for contempt of court, thus leaving it to the judge in the case to settle on a figure.

Despite the rejection of their proposal, Jones' lawyers said yesterday that they may still ask U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright to award them that much when they submit an itemized billing of expenses Friday.

Wright ruled last month that Clinton had committed contempt of court for giving "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process" in Jones' sexual-misconduct lawsuit. The false replies, the judge found, were Clinton's denials of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

As a penalty, the judge ordered Clinton to pay "any reasonable expenses" of Jones and her lawyers directly resulting from the contempt. The judge told Jones' lawyers to file details of those expenses.

Before filing that report this week, one of Jones' attorneys, Donovan Campbell Jr., suggested the $300,000 in a telephone call and in a follow-up letter to Clinton's attorney, Robert S. Bennett. Campbell had told the judge last week that he hoped the two sides could agree on a figure to aid in a "prompt disposition" of the contempt matter.

Bennett denounced the $300,000 figure yesterday as "outrageous and greedy." He said he had rejected it because he considered it to represent "a gross misunderstanding" of Wright's order holding Clinton in contempt.

A source familiar with the Clinton team's reaction to the proposal suggested that the judge had expressly avoided taking any action that would amount to a punishment of Clinton, such as a fine, opting instead for a lesser penalty in the form of reimbursed expenses of Jones' legal team.

A figure anywhere near $300,000, according to that source, would constitute punishment, and the president might challenge any sum that amounts to punishment. If the judge levied a reasonable figure, that source suggested, Clinton would not file an appeal to challenge the contempt ruling.

Campbell's $300,000 proposal to Bennett was below the low point of a range the attorneys had said they were considering: $350,000 to $500,000. They settled on $300,000 as "a reasonable figure," according to John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a private advocacy group that provided legal and financial help to Jones.

"Good, ethical lawyers always try to settle," Whitehead said yesterday. "If they can't settle, then they must go to court for a resolution." That will be done by Friday, he said.

Asked whether Jones' team would now propose to the judge a figure below $300,000, Whitehead said: "That is not contemplated at this time."

Though the Jones expense report is due this week, Wright is not expected to act on it for a few weeks. Clinton will have two weeks to file a formal reply.

The expenses Clinton will have to pay are on top of the $850,000 he has already paid in an out-of-court settlement of Jones' lawsuit.

Pub Date: 5/05/99

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