Judge fines Clinton $90,686

President must pay for his false testimony in Jones deposition

Court `grows weary'

July 30, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge ordered President Clinton yesterday to pay $90,686 as a sanction for "giving false, misleading and evasive answers" in the Paula Corbin Jones case to hide his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton, who was the first president ever found in contempt of court, is now the first ever forced to pay a penalty for a civil violation.

The president will have 60 days to pay Jones' lawyers the $89,484 that Judge Susan Webber Wright concluded they had to spend as a direct result of Clinton's false testimony. An additional $1,202 will be paid to the federal court in Little Rock to compensate Wright for expenses related to the president's deposition.

"The court takes no pleasure in imposing contempt sanctions against the nation's president, and, no doubt like many others, grows weary of this matter," Wright wrote in her decision, handed down in Little Rock. "Nevertheless, the court has determined that the president deliberately violated the court's discovery orders, thereby undermining the integrity of the judicial system."

Wright said she had imposed the penalty "not only to redress the misconduct of the president in this case, but to deter others who might themselves consider emulating the president of the United States."

Clinton, who has admitted no legal wrongdoing, was traveling to a Balkans summit in Sarajevo when the decision was handed down. His private attorney in the Jones suit, Robert S. Bennett, issued a terse statement that said simply, "We accept the judgment of the court and will comply with it."

White House aides said they were relieved that the judge's order has apparently ended the last chapter of the White House sex scandal, which erupted in January 1998 and led to Clinton's impeachment by the House of Representatives. He was acquitted by the Senate earlier this year.

"This is a reasonable response to a difficult situation," said one senior White House official."It's a way to punish the president and move on."

Wright's decision came three months after she cited Clinton for civil contempt of court stemming from his deposition on Jan. 17, 1998. Testifying under oath, the president denied having had sexual relations with Lewinsky.

The judge's finding of contempt marked the first time that a president had ever suffered such an ignominious setback, and it was greeted by many Republicans as a vindication of their impeachment votes in December. Wright ordered Clinton to pay Jones "any reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees" that resulted from his obfuscation.

Though yesterday's order may close the book on the Jones and Lewinsky matters, it adds "an exclamation point and a big notation in the history books," said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, the conservative foundation that financed Jones' sexual misconduct suit against the president.

"The underlying philosophy of the decision is that high public officials are held accountable under the law," Whitehead said. "The president lies under oath, he's held accountable, just like anyone else."

In her order, Wright said she believed that both sides -- including the president himself -- might have engaged in other misconduct worthy of punishment, such as leaking information that violated confidentiality orders. But proving such suspicions, she said, would take too much time and would not be in "the public interest."

For all the harsh words Wright leveled at Clinton, she also rejected most of the specific claims made by the Jones team, which she said were "excessive and must be reduced." In all, Wright awarded the Jones lawyers less than one-fifth of what they had argued they were entitled to.

Whitehead said the Jones lawyers would decide within two weeks whether to appeal the sum that the judge awarded.

Those lawyers had made the broadest possible interpretation of their total costs directly attributable to Clinton's denials of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. They requested compensation for expenses incurred from battling independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, from holding news conferences, reviewing media reports, even from reading Starr's impeachment report.

Based on that interpretation, the Rutherford Institute submitted an itemized billing request that totaled $58,533. Wright awarded the institute $9,485.

Jones' Dallas-based legal team at Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pike sought $437,825. Wright awarded the firm $79,999.

Bennett, saying the Jones team was "demonstrably overreaching," had asked the judge to award no more than $33,700 and as little as $12,300.

Even though Wright awarded Jones' lawyers nearly three times Bennett's suggested maximum, Clinton's supporters called her order more of a repudiation of Jones attorneys than a blow to the president.

"This clearly reflects yet another example of the Jones attorneys trying to be excessive and being repudiated," said Lanny Davis, a former White House lawyer who remains loyal to the president.

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