Clinton awaits sex-case ruling

Click to follow
The Independent Online
LAWYERS FOR Paula Jones were pleading yesterday for the reinstatement of her sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton. The four-year case was dismissed last April after a judge in Arkansas, Susan Webber Wright, ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial.

Ms Jones's legal team is challenging that ruling, questioning the judge's finding that Ms Jones suffered no psychological or professional harm from the alleged encounter.

She claimed that her career was harmed after she rebuffed an unwelcome sexual advance from Mr Clinton in an Arkansas hotel room in 1991. She was then an employee of the state of Arkansas, and Mr Clinton was state governor.

The appeal hearing was to be held on "neutral territory", in the state capital of Minnesota, St Paul. The pre-trial hearings were conducted in the Arkansas capital, Little Rock.

Ms Jones's lawyers, who - like Mr Clinton's lawyers - had just half an hour to make their case before the appeals panel yesterday, were expected to base their plea on two points. First, that Ms Webber Wright dismissed the case before weighing all the evidence, and second that she was wrong to exclude testimony from Monica Lewinsky.

While the summons to Ms Lewinsky in the Paula Jones case precipitated the revelations about her relationship with the President, Ms Lewinsky's case was ruled irrelevant to proving a "pattern of behaviour" by Mr Clinton in soliciting favours from state employees. Ms Jones's law-yers may now cite Mr Clinton's admission of his relationship with Ms Lewinsky as evidence that he was less than frank in his sworn testimony and that other parts of his evidence may be unreliable.

Mr Clinton has steadfastly denied any encounter with Ms Jones and, although he has made a succession of financial offers through his lawyers, he has refused to meet her demand for an apology. The President has also fought shy of any settlement that might be construed as offering an apology. Only this weekend he declined to be associated with a $2m (pounds 1.2m) settlement, half of which would have been paid direct to Ms Jones by a New York millionaire property developer, Abe Hirschfeld.

Because of Kenneth Starr's report, which documented Mr Clinton's relationship with Ms Lewinsky and alleged that he lied under oath when he denied the affair, Mr Clinton was under extreme political pressure to settle with Ms Jones. By yesterday, however, with Mr Clinton's popularity ratings holding up well despite impending impeachment hearings, the greater pressure seemed to be on Ms Jones.

Court documents from the pre-trial hearings released on Monday produced no further embarrassments for Mr Clinton, and showed the lengths to which Ms Jones's lawyers went in attempts to expose the President's sexual encounters. The burden yesterday was on Ms Jones to prove that the dismissal of her case was wrong. If she fails she could find herself without any compensation and facing huge legal fees.