President seeks delay in Ark. ethics case

Clinton wants investigation put off until he leaves office

March 17, 2000|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton asked an Arkansas court panel yesterday to delay an investigation of his ethics until after he leaves office and indicated he will fight to keep his lawyer's license.

David E. Kendall, the president's personal lawyer, filed the postponement plea with the Arkansas Committee on Professional Conduct, an arm of the state supreme court that opened an inquiry last month.

The investigation focuses on two sets of ethics complaints resulting from Clinton's testimony under oath during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

If the charges are upheld, Clinton could be disbarred, have his Arkansas license suspended or face some lesser punishment, such as a reprimand.

Kendall said his letter to the panel sought "an extension of time for the president to respond until 30 days after he leaves office."

Because the letter was filed confidentially, Kendall would not comment further.

However, the use of the word "respond" appeared to be the president's way of signaling that he will not voluntarily surrender his license, but rather will answer the charges against him and defend his right to remain on the formal roll of Arkansas attorneys.

Although he is unlikely to practice law after he becomes a private citizen again, Clinton is known to feel strongly about retaining his license.

Clinton will leave office Jan. 20, so yesterday's request, if granted, would mean he would not answer the charges until late February.

The president made a similar attempt to delay the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit until after he had left office, but the Supreme Court thwarted that move.

The Jones lawsuit was dismissed, but the president's sworn testimony in that case denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky led to an order holding him in civil contempt of court.

That contempt finding is one of the bases of the ethics complaints in Arkansas.

If the postponement request is granted, a new fight before the Arkansas Supreme Court might break out.

Matthew J. Glavin, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that is pursuing one of the list of ethics grievances against the president, called the postponement plea an "outrageous request for an untenable extension."

The 13-month delay Clinton is seeking, Glavin said, "is not reasonable by any measure," and the rules controlling the Arkansas panel allow only "reasonable" extensions of time for an answer.

"The Arkansas Supreme Court has already said this must move forward `forthwith,' " he said.

"We could be in that court, seeking relief, in a matter of days."

Glavin also argued that, because the president has not yet responded formally to the charges, the committee should go ahead now, with no delay.

If it does not, he said, that, too, could bring on a separate challenge before the state supreme court.

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