Contempt ruling for 'evasive' Clinton

BILL CLINTON was back in legal trouble yesterday after a ruling by an Arkansas judge that he was guilty of contempt for his testimony in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones.

In her judgment, Susan Webber Wright cited President Clinton's "wilful failure" to obey her instructions to testify truthfully in the Jones lawsuit. "The record demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the President responded to plaintiff's questions by giving false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process."

The judge's findings related specifically to Mr Clinton's denials of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. "Simply put, the President's ... testimony regarding whether he had ever been alone with Ms Lewinsky was intentionally false, and his statements regarding whether he had ever engaged in sexual relations with Ms Lewinsky likewise were intentionally false, notwithstanding tortured definitions and interpretations of the term 'sexual relations'."

Attacking his much- criticised technique of "parsing" the judge's questions to find legal loopholes, Judge Webber Wright said: "It is simply not acceptable to employ deceptions and falsehoods in an attempt to obstruct the judicial process, understandable as his aggravation with the plaintiff's lawsuit may have been."

The ruling could prove costly to the President, making him liable for thousands of dollars in costs and jeopardising his licence to practise as a lawyer. In the first instance, Mr Clinton must pay the judge's costs for taking his testimony, and any legal costs incurred by Ms Jones as a result of his lying.

Ms Jones, who recently moved back to Arkansas after agreeing an $850,000 (pounds 530,000) settlement with Mr Clinton, is still in dispute with her successive teams of lawyers about how much she owes them. The long-running case grew out of her accusation that Mr Clinton propositioned her for oral sex in 1991 when he was Arkansas state governor and she was a junior state employee.

While the judge eventually dismissed the case for lack of evidence of sexual harassment, this was before Ms Lewinsky testified to the existence of a relationship, and Ms Jones was contemplating an appeal at the time of the settlement.

Mr Clinton is already deep in debt as a result of legal costs incurred in this and the Lewinsky case, and can ill afford more expense. If the state of Arkansas decided to cancel his licence to practise law, he would be additionally penalised, as this would not only deprive him of a possible source of income after he leaves office, but add a mark of personal disgrace.

The President's lawyers were reported to be considering an appeal, but an early legal and political consensus appeared to be forming that he should accept the verdict rather than risk keeping the Jones case - and his own legal entanglements - in the public eye.

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