Clinton lawyers won't try to oust judge in Paula Jones case
Judge Susan Webber Wright considers holding president in contempt
February 17, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 17) -- Attorneys for President Bill Clinton won't try to disqualify the judge in Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit, who is considering holding the president in contempt of court for his deposition testimony in the case, CNN has learned.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock, Arkansas, had given both sides the opportunity to ask for her recusal because of her contact with House impeachment manager Rep. Asa Hutchinson during Clinton's Senate trial.
Hutchinson asked Wright to give testimony in the impeachment case. She declined, but her law clerk provided an affidavit.
Though the Jones case has already been settled out of court, Wright informed lawyers on both sides Tuesday that she is considering citing Clinton for contempt for his deposition testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
In Clinton's deposition, he denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. He also allowed his attorney, Robert Bennett, to introduce an affidavit to the court from Lewinsky denying any affair.
The president later admitted having an inappropriate intimate relationship with the former White House intern. While conceding that his deposition testimony in the Jones case may have been misleading, he maintains that his comments were "legally accurate" and that he did not commit perjury.
Wright raised the possibility of contempt in a footnote to her decision September 1 to release a transcript of Clinton's testimony. She said Tuesday that she had waited to address the issue because of the impeachment trial and the fact that Jones' case had been pending before an appeals court until it was settled last November.
"Accordingly, I believe that now it is time for the court to address the contempt issue," she said in an order issued after a status conference with lawyers.
Contempt of court citations can result in hefty fines or even jail time. Wright gave no indication of what the result of the citation against Clinton might be or when a ruling could be expected.
Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative legal group in Washington, filed a formal petition with Wright months ago seeking a court hearing on whether Clinton was in contempt of court because of what the private organization called his "apparently false testimony." The foundation said "the court has the right, if not the duty, to defend itself against obstructive acts committed in its presence."
Wright also said she would hold a hearing Friday on the recusal issue, but she said she didn't think her contact with Hutchinson was sufficient to disqualify her from the case. If she were to withdraw, the contempt matter would be decided by another judge.
Wright said Hutchinson wanted her testimony about Clinton's demeanor during his deposition testimony, including where his attention was directed.
Clinton testified to the grand jury that he might not have been paying attention when Bennett told the judge about Lewinsky's affidavit and said there was no sex of any kind with Clinton.
Hutchinson said that an affidavit by Wright would assert that Clinton was looking at Bennett when Bennett told the judge that there "is no sex" between Lewinsky and the president -- based on the Lewinsky affidavit.
Wright said she was not willing to be a witness in the impeachment proceeding and suggested that other people could provide the same evidence. Her law clerk, Barry Ward, later provided an affidavit about Clinton's deposition.
Jones' spokeswoman, Susan Carpenter-McMillan, said she had not talked with Jones but that Clinton should be held for contempt.
"My God, he lied," Carpenter-McMillan said. "If he can get away with not being held for contempt, I suppose we could all lie."
Jones alleged that Clinton, when he was governor of Arkansas, made a crude sexual advance in a room at a Little Rock hotel in 1991, and that her career suffered because she rejected his overtures. She was a state worker at the time.
She filed her lawsuit in 1994. Wright dismissed the suit April 1, but Jones appealed the decision. The appeal was pending when she and Clinton reached a settlement November 13 under which the president must pay Jones $850,000.
Jones' lawsuit brought to light the president's affair with Lewinsky and set in motion a criminal investigation that resulted in the House vote to impeach Clinton.
Wright's order emerged from a hearing Tuesday on rival claims to Jones' settlement by several legal teams who had represented her at different times.
Wright ordered the check deposited with the court within eight days for safekeeping pending a decision on how the money should be divided.
CNN's Bob Franken, Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
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