Jones lawyers seek $496,000 from Clinton for their expenses

Amount increased after president's lawyers spurned settlement offer

May 08, 1999|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Seeking a steep penalty against President Clinton for contempt of court, Paula Corbin Jones' lawyers asked a federal judge yesterday to assess $496,358.30 -- nearly $200,000 higher than an out-of-court proposal the president's attorneys rejected this week.

"This nation now awaits a vigorous response from the federal judiciary to Clinton's virulent attack on its integrity," Jones' legal team argued in a 155-page catalog of lawyers' fees and expenses that, they said, resulted directly from Clinton's false testimony in the Jones case.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright found Clinton in contempt three weeks ago, the first time a president has been so judged. Jones' attorneys argued that Wright should impose "a substantial monetary sanction" to "send Clinton a message that he cannot possibly misconstrue."

Wright has ruled that Clinton should have to pay "reasonable expenses" of Jones' lawyers as a penalty for what she said were intentional lies when he denied under oath that he had had sex with Monica Lewinsky and other women. The judge said that honest replies could have bolstered some of Jones' legal claims in her sexual misconduct lawsuit, although Wright later dismissed the case.

In effect, the Jones team contended yesterday, Clinton should have to pay nearly all the expenses run up by her lawyers as they sought evidence from women who may have had sex with Clinton.

In an interview, the president's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, denounced the penalty claims as "unreasonable, greedy and contrary to law." In a letter to Wright, Bennett also continued to defend Clinton against accusations that he lied under oath. But he formally notified the judge that he would not challenge her contempt finding.

"It is imperative to bring this matter to speedy closure," Bennett wrote. He also told Wright that Clinton's team would formally reply to the claim. That reply is due in two weeks. Wright is not expected to take action before then.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Clinton's side would agree to a figure below $100,000.

Earlier this week, the Jones team proposed $300,000. Bennett refused, calling that amount "outrageous and greedy."

Jones' lawyers, however, threatened to demand more expense reimbursements if they have to spend time defending yesterday's claim. They also warned that if Clinton resists, they would look into how much money Clinton has paid his lawyers, and compare that to what Jones' team was charging.

The attorneys tried to show that their demands were modest. They said they thought they had a right to charge Clinton for every legal expense after his first denial, in December 1997, of having had sex with past government employees.

But, rather than seek reimbursement of all those expenses, Jones' team said, they are seeking payment only for legal actions they took in direct response to Clinton's testimony under oath. They listed some hefty expenses: The total claim in attorneys' fees for sitting in on Clinton's deposition exceeded $8,000.

The lawyers said they concluded that Clinton had probably lied, especially about a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. "The effort to prove that he lied became one of the most important aspects of the case," they said, because it would have been "very potent evidence indeed" to support Jones' claim.

Jones sued Clinton in 1994, contending that he made a crude sexual overture to her in 1991 when he was Arkansas governor and she was a low-paid state employee. Her lawyers sought to gather evidence that Clinton made sexual advances to many women, including government employees.

The main part of the filing by Jones' team yesterday was a compilation of lawyers' fees "related to matters on which Bill Clinton committed perjury and obstruction of justice."

Sun staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/08/99

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