Deciding Bill Clinton's fate

Arkansas: State bar proceedings are the right place to deal with Paula Jones mess.

May 29, 2000

THIS IS HOW Bill Clinton's apparent misconduct in the Paula Jones case should have been handled all along.

In Arkansas. With nothing more at stake than his ability to practice law. Finally, we have an appropriate response to Mr. Clinton's inappropriate behavior.

Of course, to get to this reasoned conclusion, the citizenry had to suffer through an agonizing federally funded investigation and impeachment trial two years ago. That whole process was a sham, because Mr. Clinton's behavior didn't rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" required by the Constitution to remove a president.

But in Arkansas, where an ethics committee of the state's Supreme Court has recommended that Mr. Clinton's law license be revoked, the issues are different.

The legal community there -- as in other states -- is predicated on the ability of the system to decide guilt or innocence, liability or immunity based on testimony and evidence that are true.

If Mr. Clinton lied about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky in testimony during Paula Jones' sexual harassment case, then he the system.

The ethics committee concluded he did, and that his transgressions should permanently cost him his membership in the state bar. That would be the harshest penalty the state could impose; a state judge could find suspension or other lesser punishment more appropriate.

Whatever the ruling, it will be far more proportionate to Mr. Clinton's misconduct than anything that could have emerged from the circus-like impeachment trial.

It wouldn't be a bad idea, either, for the judge to wait until after Mr. Clinton leaves office next year to decide this matter. The same courtesy was extended Richard Nixon -- whose sins were much greater -- 25 years ago. More important, the public, forced to suffer through this sordid tale, would probably be much obliged.

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