Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lawsuits and the Presidency Argued in Court

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lawsuits and the Presidency Argued in Court

Article excerpt

A lawyer for Paula Corbin Jones said here Thursday that he has no desire to interrupt crucial official business to ask President Bill Clinton about claims that he sexually harassed Jones in a hotel room.

But Jones should not have to wait until Clinton leaves office to pursue her claims, argued the lawyer, Gilbert K. Davis.

"In short, she wants to be treated as the equal of anyone," he said.

Clinton's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett of Washington, told a federal appeals court panel that Jones' sexual harassment suit should remain on hold until after Clinton leaves office. The White House has denied Jones' claim that Clinton propositioned her in 1991 when he was governor of Arkansas.

Bennett said no one wants to extinguish Jones' rights. But he argued that allowing civil suits to proceed against a president while in office would be too much of a distraction from official duties.

"Anybody who wants the notoriety" could file "the most frivolous of suits," Bennett said.

Jones alleges in her $700,000 suit that while Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he made an unwanted sexual overture toward her in May 1991 at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock. Davis told reporters Thursday that after making small talk in a room at the hotel, Clinton "exposed himself to her and asked her to perform an act on him."

Spectators for the clash between the two lawyers took all 40 or so courtroom seats in the federal courthouse downtown. An equal number stood along three walls to watch Bennett and Davis.

Bennett told the court that the president is unique.

"He's on duty 24 hours a day," Bennett said. "You pull the president into a courtroom? It doesn't make any sense."

Said Judge Pasco Bowman, "It's a hard case."

"Not to me, it isn't," Bennett replied.

Facing the three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are questions of presidential immunity from suits, the burdens of the office and the rights of ordinary citizens. The panel could rule by the end of the year whether Jones, 27, must wait until after Clinton is out of office before she can press her claim.

If voters re-elect Clinton next year, Jones' suit could be stalled until after the turn of the century. …

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