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Judge Considers Closing Jones Case

October 21, 1997

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A judge in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton is considering whether to allow reporters into a hearing on a request to quash a subpoena seeking testimony from a former White House aide.

Lawyers for newspapers argued on Monday that the hearing, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, should be open. Afterward, U.S. District Judge Robert R. Merhige postponed the hearing indefinitely without giving a reason.

Lawyers for Ms. Jones have subpoenaed Kathleen E. Willey, of Richmond, for a deposition, but Ms. Willey’s attorney asked the judge to toss out the subpoena. Ms. Jones’ attorneys hope to use Ms. Willey’s testimony to establish a pattern of improper sexual overtures by Clinton.

``There is a First Amendment right to an open proceeding,″ attorney Alexander Wellford, representing The Washington Times and Richmond Times-Dispatch, told Merhige. ``The public and the press have a right to attend.″

But Merhige, who last month sealed documents containing explanations by Ms. Jones’ attorneys on why Ms. Willey should be questioned, said the explanations are ``at the very best the worst of hearsay.″

Both sides expected the explanations to include detailed allegations of a romantic encounter between Clinton and Ms. Willey in the Oval Office. Ms. Willey previously worked in the White House social secretary’s office and the White House counsel’s office.

Ms. Jones alleged that in 1991, when Clinton was governor of Arkansas and she was a state employee, he solicited her for oral sex in a hotel room in Little Rock. Clinton denies her allegations.

Also Monday, Merhige took under advisement a request to transfer the motion to squash the subpoena to federal court in Little Rock, Ark., where Ms. Jones’ lawsuit is scheduled for trial in May.

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