Experts Praise Jones Case Dismissal
DAVID A. LIEB
Apr. 03, 1998
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Legal experts say it took courage for U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright to discard Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit in the face of political pressure from conservative groups for a trial.
But from a legal standpoint, they said, she made the obvious decision.
``She screened out any political biases on her part, any political favor,'' said Robert Savage, chairman of the University of Arkansas political science department. ``It would have been easier for her to let the case go forward, but she looked at it clearly, objectively.''
An outspoken Clinton critic, Little Rock lawyer Charles Suphan, said: ``The judge simply made a decision based on the standard of the law, and I'm sure she acted in good conscience and ruled properly.''
Three years ago, Judge Wright granted Clinton's request to delay Mrs. Jones' trial until after he left the presidency. Her Dec. 28, 1994, order was a split decision, however, and her directive that pretrial evidence gathering continue brought her criticism from both sides.
A year later, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the case back on and last May, the Supreme Court upheld the appellate court unanimously. The case resumed until Judge Wright threw it out Wednesday, saying the allegation that Clinton propositioned Mrs. Jones in a hotel room fell far short of satisfying a sexual harassment claim.
``To the extent that it was one of the most highly publicized cases ever, it seemed to me that it was by the book,'' said attorney Lawrence Fox of Philadelphia, former chairman of the American Bar Association's litigation section.
``It demonstrated that the process works. It also demonstrated that it can be very expensive, and that trial publicity rules don't work,'' he said.
Judge Wright was often irked by the growing media interest in the case. For a time, she barred reporters from standing outside her courthouse office and she walked with an armed escort to her car.
The media scrutiny also bothered her husband, law professor Robert R. Wright, who drew attention earlier this year when he was quoted as saying he had made suggestions to his wife about Mrs. Jones' case.
Reached at his office Thursday, he said: `I'm not commenting. Since that, I don't talk to reporters.''
In handling the lawyers, the judge tolerated leaks of information and let them roam over a relatively wide range, especially after Mrs. Jones' lawyers requested a chance to prove that women who succumbed to Clinton's advances benefited somehow.
``They can't claim that the judge was demonstrating any bias against them. She clearly gave them every opportunity to prove out their case,'' said San Francisco lawyer Philip Kay, who represents sex harassment plaintiffs.
Until Wednesday's decision, only once did the judge make a key ruling against Mrs. Jones.
``One could say that she (Mrs. Jones) got every kind of break imaginable except for the evidence regarding Monica Lewinsky,'' said Temple Law School professor Edward Ohlbaum, director of that school's trial advocacy program. ``The system is one that encourages that kind of wide-ranging discovery.''
Judge Wright's connections to Clinton go back to his early political years. She took a law school class taught by then-professor Clinton in the early 1970s. Then she campaigned against him in Clinton's first political bid _ a loss to Republican U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt in 1974.
Later, while a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she headed a local organization of lawyers supporting George Bush's 1988 presidential campaign. When Bush named her to the bench in 1990, Hammerschmidt sponsored her appointment.