Group seeks to speed disbarment case against Clinton

Arkansas panel urged not to open ethics issue

May 09, 2000|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON — A conservative group seeking to nullify President Clinton's law license urged an Arkansas Supreme Court ethics panel yesterday to cut short his right to defend himself and to move promptly for his disbarment.

To speed up its case against Clinton, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, an advocacy group, argued that he should not be allowed to reopen the issue of whether he lied to a federal judge about a sexual relationship with one-time White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

It should be taken as settled that he testified falsely and deceptively under oath and, with his high rank and the symbolism of his office, that should be enough to justify disbarment, the organization contended in a new filing.

Last month, Clinton's attorneys filed a long defense against the ethics charges leveled by the foundation as well as by a federal judge, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who found Clinton to be in contempt of court for his testimony about Lewinsky.

The president and his lawyers agreed to fight hard to save his license rather than surrender it voluntarily to avoid disbarment. Although he does not plan to practice law, he values his law license, his associates have said.

The president's defense to the charges has not been made public because his lawyers consider the ethics case confidential.

But the challenging group made public yesterday its reply to Clinton, and in it quoted or paraphrased parts of what it said Clinton's defense had been. It said Clinton had tried to mount a full-scale defense, and said his response had denied lying or intentional deception of the judge.

David E. Kendall, the president's private lawyer, said the foundation "isn't interested in issues related to Arkansas lawyers and legal services. It's just interested in attacking the president in any way it can." He said the group's public release of its filing "is just another part of the long-running partisan mudslinging campaign against the president."

The foundation, resisting the breadth of Clinton's defense to the charges, said the president "has had his day in court." That came, it said, when Wright examined his testimony in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment case, then ruled that Clinton committed contempt of court in his responses to questions about Lewinsky.

The advocacy group added that Clinton did not contest that ruling, so he should not be allowed to "relitigate" those matters before the state lawyers' ethics committee, which is studying two allegations that Clinton acted unethically under rules governing attorneys licensed in Arkansas.

The ethics committee, the foundation said yesterday, should show respect for Wright by accepting her finding as "conclusive."

Thus, the foundation contended, the panel should go ahead with a finding that Clinton's testimony violated Arkansas ethics rules. The next step, it suggested, would be for the panel to formally ask a state judge to disbar Clinton.

"The president has by his conduct separated himself from the rule of law and the rules governing the profession of law," the foundation argued. "Only disbarment will adequately reflect the consequences, which his behavior demands."

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