Gag Order Stays in Paula Jones Case
Jul. 09, 1998
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ A federal judge today put off indefinitely the release of secret court files in Paula Jones' sexual-harassment lawsuit against President Clinton.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright issued the order after Clinton's lawyers asked her to reconsider her June 30 decision to release the documents in 10 days. At the time, she said there was no reason to keep most documents in the case under seal.
She dismissed Mrs. Jones' lawsuit April 1.
The judge pushed back the effective date of her order until Monday but said that, even then, no documents would be released until she ruled otherwise.
In her lawsuit, Mrs. Jones claimed that Clinton asked her to perform a sex act in an Arkansas hotel room in 1991, when he was governor and she was a state employee. Clinton has said he does not recall such a meeting and has denied doing anything improper.
In his request today, Clinton said the judge may not be aware that there was much evidence collected, but not submitted to the court, that also would be unsealed under the order. For example, his lawyers said, Mrs. Jones' lawyers would be free to release any material they collected during the case's discovery phase but didn't file with the court.
In any case, Clinton said the media have no right of access to the material and that both sides' right to a fair trial could be jeopardized by its release.
In a footnote to the filing, Clinton's lawyers said they were filing a list of material that remains under seal. Apparently, that list was filed secretly under the gag order Wright imposed in October.
A dozen media organizations, including The Associated Press, asked her to unseal the record in February as allegations of a possible presidential affair and coverup surfaced.
The judge denied the request, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asked her to reconsider the denial after she tossed out Mrs. Jones' lawsuit.
In her June 30 ruling, Wright said her dismissal of Mrs. Jones' case eliminated the chance that the material would taint a potential jury for Mrs. Jones' trial even if it occurred sometime next year.
But Clinton lawyers said that the right to a fair trial would be hurt regardless of how much time elapsed.
``Unsealing the court record and discovery here would have precisely the result the courts uniformly reject _ plaintiff, the media and others could improperly use the fruits of the court's compulsory processes and court records for profit and political gain,'' Clinton's lawyers said.
``Indeed, the temptation to abuse the compulsory processes of the courts and court records is particularly high in cases such as this one against a sitting president.''
Other media organizations who sued to lift the order include The New York Times; Pulitzer Publishing; USA Today; ABC; CBS; NBC; CNN; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Fox News Network; the Society of Professional Journalists; and Little Rock Newspapers Inc., the publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Should the judge maintain her decision to lift the gag order, Clinton's lawyers said she should at least conduct an item-by-item review of all material after the parties in the lawsuit and other parties involved have a chance to present arguments.
``Given the media's desperate need for news under the demands of today's 24-hour news cycle and cable television shows, any additional unsealing could result in 10 hours a day of reporting, misrepporting and displaying of unsealed material,'' the lawyers said.
``Such a media circus would make a mockery of the judicial system, and make selection of an impartial jury, if one ever becomes necessary, impossible,'' they wrote. ``It also will have the result of punishing non-party witnesses who so far have been protected from the media frenzy.''