Clinton lawyers dispute penalty sought by Jones

President wants to pay $460,000 less to reimburse for contempt charge

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

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's legal team argued yesterday that he should have to pay $33,737, at most, for contempt of court in the Paula Corbin Jones case -- less than 7 percent of the amount that her lawyers have demanded.

Clinton's lawyers said he should be required to pay only $12,316 -- less than 3 cents for each dollar sought. As calculated by the president's lawyers, the lower amount is how much Jones' side was forced to spend as a result of Clinton's contempt of court.

The amount might be pushed as high as $33,737, the president's lawyers said, if the Jones lawyers' claims are interpreted more liberally.

The bulk of the $496,358 that Jones' attorneys have claimed, Clinton's team argued, was for expenses or legal activities unrelated to the conduct for which Clinton faces a penalty.

Clinton's lawyers contended that anything more than a modest sum to compensate for expenses resulting from the contempt of court would amount to a "punitive" assessment that would be illegal. The president was held in civil, not criminal, contempt, they noted.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled last month that Clinton had committed contempt of court in the Jones case when he lied under oath by denying he had sex with Monica Lewinsky and other women.

As a penalty, the judge ordered Clinton to pay "reasonable expenses" incurred by Jones' lawyers as a result of the contempt. Wright will decide what is "reasonable." She has set no timetable for a decision.

Clinton's new filing appeared to set the stage for another battle in the case, drawing Wright into an acrimonious dispute over what financial penalty is sufficient.

This week, Jones' attorneys sought to escalate the conflict, asking the judge's permission to determine how much Clinton has paid his lawyers. That is part of a strategy to show that Clinton's legal advisers were paid more than the Jones' team is asking for itself.

Robert S. Bennett, Clinton's lead lawyer, told Wright yesterday that he would oppose the inquiry.

Bennett's hourly fee is believed to be at least $450; the Jones team's senior lawyer charges an hourly fee of $225.

In yesterday's filing, Clinton's attorneys ridiculed many of the expenses Jones' lawyers said they incurred trying to cope with Clinton's obstruction of their efforts to find out about his extramarital sexual relations.

"The grossly excessive costs sought," the president's lawyers said, "did not result from the sanctioned conduct."

The Dallas law firm that headed Jones' team, the Clinton lawyers said, "has sought to recover almost one-third of its entire legal fees" for handling Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton -- even seeking fees for work done before Clinton did anything involved in the contempt finding.

Noting that Clinton has been assessed $1,202 to cover Wright's expenses related to the contempt, Clinton's lawyers said Jones' team was seeking "more than 400 times" as much for their expenses.

The president's attorneys urged Wright to reject penalty money for the Rutherford Institute, a conservative advocacy group that financed much of Jones' lawsuit.

Of the $496,358 sought by Jones' attorneys, the institute is claiming $58,533. Clinton's attorneys contend that the institute did no legal work on the case and was not covered by Wright's contempt order.

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