Judge Tosses Out Jones' Lawsuit
Clinton wins a surprising legal victory in Little Rock
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AllPolitics, April 1) -- Less than two months before a trial date, a federal judge Wednesday threw out Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton, ruling that Jones had no "genuine issues" worthy of trial.
The surprise decision is a big legal victory for Clinton, who wondered, when first informed of the news, if it was an April Fool's joke. Jones' representatives describe her as "very, very hurt," and her legal team is considering an appeal. [More on Jones' legal case]
In a 40-page ruling, Judge Susan Webber Wright granted Clinton's motion for summary judgment, saying Jones' allegations "fall short" of what was required under the law to support the three counts against the president.
"The plaintiff's allegations fall short of the rigorous standards for establishing a claim of outrage under Arkansas law and the court therefore grants the president's motion for summary judgment on this claim," Wright wrote in her opinion. [Profile of Wright]
Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, claims then-Gov. Clinton asked her for oral sex in a Little Rock hotel in 1991. The suit alleged Clinton's actions amounted to sexual harassment, resulted in job discrimination against Jones
and made her feel "emotional outrage." Clinton denied any wrongdoing.
The lawsuit had been scheduled to go to trial May 27.
The lead attorney for Jones said Wednesday night he will appeal the dismissal of her lawsuit immediately, if Jones is willing.
Clinton got the news on the phone in Senegal from his attorney, Bob Bennett. The president, when told of the decision, first asked if it was an April Fool's joke, according to White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.
Public reaction from the traveling White House was subdued. McCurry, in Africa with the president, delivered a carefully worded reaction, saying the president was "pleased to receive the vindication he has long waited for." (576K wav sound)
But behind the scenes, the president clearly appeared more than "pleased." Clinton was captured by a FOX News camera dancing while playing an African drum and smoking a cigar.
And stunned aides were relieved and thrilled by the judge's decision. Understating the case, McCurry said the ruling was "not entirely expected but welcome nonetheless."
Bennett said Wright's written decision spoke for itself. "It was a very strong and powerful opinion," said Clinton's lawyer. "[The judge] is right on the law, she is right on the facts." (640K wav sound)
In her decision, Wright said if Clinton did what Jones claimed, it was "offensive and boorish," but it was not sexual assault. And there was no evidence Jones suffered on the job because of the alleged incident, the judge ruled.
As for the attempt by Jones' lawyers to bring in Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey and others, Wright wrote, "Whether other women may have been subjected to workplace harassment and whether such evidence has allegedly been suppressed does not change the fact that the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that she has a case worthy of submitting to a jury."
The judge also ruled there was no conspiracy between then-Gov. Clinton and Arkansas State Trooper Danny Ferguson to violate Jones' civil rights, concluding, "Reduced to its essence, the record taken as a whole, could not lead a rational jury of fact to find for a non-moving party and the court therefore finds that there are no genuine issues for trial in this case," the judge continued.
The Rutherford Institute, a conservative group footing the legal bills for Jones, said of the decision in a written statement, "We respectfully but firmly disagree."
And it is considering an appeal. "That's the client's decision," John Whitehead, of the Rutherford Institute, said at a news conference. "We are looking at the options. We feel that there is good opportunity for appeal here. We feel that Paula Jones does have the fire ... I mean, it's very difficult, but again, she's gone this far -- really gone through the hard trials of this case. [The legal options]
"So the question is, why not pursue it? And we think she will pursue it," he said.
Jones spokeswoman Susan Carpenter-McMillan said Jones was "shocked," "disappointed" and "very, very hurt" by the ruling.
"Paula has spent four years doing something that no other woman had the courage to do," she said. "She's paid a tremendous price for the women of this country. I just pray to God she finds the strength to go on," Carpenter-McMillan said from outside Jones' California home.
Earlier, Carpenter-McMillan said, "I'm shocked. I'd be less than honest if I didn't say I was completely blown away by this decision. I think Judge Wright made the wrong decision, but, with all due respect, it hasn't been the first time she's made a wrong decision in this case. We had to go all the way to the Supreme Court just to make sure it got tried .... I dare say, we will more than likely be back before the Supreme Court again." (768K wav sound)
Jones' lawyers in Dallas said they have not talked with Jones or among themselves enough to decide if they will appeal, but they challenged the suggestion that the ruling was a vindication of the president.
"For purposes of this decision, President Clinton did every single thing Paula Jones said he did, and if that's some sort of a vindication, then I guess I just don't understand how Washington operates," said Jones' lawyer Wes Holmes.
News of the judge's dismissal traveled from Arkansas to Senegal to the president as he was wrapping up day 10 of his Africa trip. Clinton got an urgent message to call his private attorney back in Washington.
Bennett had received a call from the court clerk informing him the case had been tossed out.
Sources tell CNN Clinton was stunned. Following a private moment with first lady Hillary Clinton, the president then quickly ordered aides not to gloat, and arranged several transcontinental conference calls to plot strategy.
The first couple canceled a shopping excursion to spend the evening in their Dakar hotel suite for their impromptu celebration. The Clintons also spent time on the phone with friends back in the U.S.
While Jones' civil case has been dismissed, Clinton still faces a criminal investigation by Independent Counsel Ken Starr into allegations that the president had a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and asked her to lie about it. [Analysis: A Victory, But Clinton Not In Clear Yet]
Clinton denied the charges, as did Lewinsky in a deposition taken in the Jones case. A grand jury in Washington is investigating these allegations.
A White House aide told CNN, "It's a lot like V.E. [Victory in Europe during World War II] Day. We still have one front to fight."
Starr issued a statement saying that Wright's decision does not affect his probe. "In January, the Attorney General and the special division assigned us to
investigate a variety of matters. Judge Wright's ruling today has no effect on
our authority, and we will continue working to complete the investigation as
expeditiously as possible," Starr said.
Bennett filed a summary judgment motion in February to have the case dismissed. "Plaintiff [Jones] has failed to produce evidence showing the existence of essential elements of each of her claims. Therefore President Clinton is entitled to judgment as a matter of law," Bennett argued.
Lawyers for Jones responded March 13, filing 700 pages of legal arguments and evidence to bolster their argument that the lawsuit should go to trial. In its brief, Jones' team claimed the record before the court "provides good reason to believe that Mr. Clinton and those acting on his behalf have engaged in a vast enterprise to suppress evidence in this case and otherwise corrupt these proceedings."
The documents sought to show a pattern of women either benefiting or suffering harm on the job, depending on their response to Clinton's alleged advances. They included former White House intern Monica Lewinsky's subpoena and affidavit, despite Wright's earlier decision ruling Lewinsky-related evidence "nonessential" to the Jones case.
Bennett had the final word, filing 200 pages of legal documents a week later, once again arguing Jones had failed to establish any legal claim worthy of trial. He called her case "little more than a web of deceit and distortions" and "a politically motivated attack on President Clinton without legal merit that should be dismissed ...."