A NEW shadow fell across Bill Clinton's future yesterday when a judge in Arkansas found him in contempt of court for his testimony in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones. The ruling could make Mr Clinton liable for Ms Jones's mountainous legal costs and lead to his being banned from practising law in his home state.
Judge Susan Webber Wright said: "The record demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the President responded to plaintiffs' questions by giving false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process." Judge Wright ruled that Mr Clinton was in contempt for answers he gave under oath in January 1998, citing his "wilful failure" to obey her repeated instructions to testify truthfully. The specific answers she singled out related to his denials of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. In his testimony in the Paula Jones case, Mr Clinton said: "I have never had sexual relations with Ms Lewinsky." And he denied specific acts contained in the judge's definition of sexual relations.
Eight months later, however, after Ms Lewinsky had handed over her semen- stained dress to prosecutors. Mr Clinton admitted to an "inappropriate intimate relationship" with the White House trainee when he testified to the grand jury hearing evidence about the Lewinsky affair. But he stopped short of admitting - even implicitly - that his earlier testimony had been untruthful, in the apparent hope of escaping just the sort of ruling handed down by Ms Wright yesterday.
Ms Jones's lawyers sought to use Mr Clinton's relationship with Ms Lewinsky to demonstrate that he showed a "pattern of behaviour" towards young women employees. Ms Jones alleged that Mr Clinton had propositioned her for oral sex in an Arkansas hotel room when he was State Governor and she was a junior state employee. She agreed an out-of-court settlement with Mr Clinton that gave her $850,000 (pounds 537,000) three quarters of which went to pay lawyers.
The case brought by Paula Jones was a civil lawsuit, and Judge Wright's ruling does not expose Mr Clinton to prosecution unless the state judiciary chooses to take it further. The financial and ethical penalties, however, could be crippling. Mr Clinton is already in debt to the tune of several million dollars for the legal fees and costs he ran up in the Jones and Lewinsky cases.
t Susan McDougal, the former Arkansas business associate of President and Mrs Clinton, was yesterday found not guilty of obstructing the course of justice in the judicial inquiry into the failed Whitewater land venture. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on three other charges and a mistrial was declared. Ms McDougal had spent 18 months in prison without trial for contempt of court.
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