Jewish World Review May 30, 2000 / 25 Iyar, 5760
According to Rule 8.4(c) of the Arkansas Rules of professional conduct, "a lawyer should be professionally answerable for offenses that indicate a lack of those characteristics relevant to private law practice" including "dishonesty, breach of trust or serious interference with the administration of justice." The code continues, "It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."
The president's defenders, who just a couple of years ago were beating the drums for a congressional censure of their man (in lieu of impeachment), are now vigorously disputing the notion that he deserves to suffer any formal sanction whatever for his serial lies and perjuries.
His misconduct, they insist, was not committed as a lawyer and therefor ought not to be considered grounds for disbarment. Richard Nixon's lawyers tried that argument too when he was facing disbarment in New York State. It didn't fly.
In fact, New York's legal establishment was so eager to make a point that it refused to permit Nixon to withdraw his law license voluntarily (as he had done in California and before the Supreme Court), unless he agreed to sign an affidavit admitting all of the charges made against him. Nixon refused and was disbarred.
Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School maintains that disbarment is reserved for serious criminal activity by lawyers and that to single out Clinton for harsher than normal treatment would be "political."
As to the first argument, it is not all that clear that courts reserve disbarment for serious crimes by lawyers. In 1995, the Oklahoma Supreme Court disbarred a lawyer who had lied to his clients and later used misrepresentation to conceal his misconduct. And in 1998 the Arkansas Supreme Court wrote, "There is simply no place in law for a man who cannot or will not tell the truth."
But to suggest that Clinton is being treated unfairly because he is being treated differently is absurd. He has benefited immensely by being treated differently in the past. His sexual harassment of government employees, for example, was winked at because he was a governor and then a president. Any CEO committing comparable acts, and indeed, any military officer committing one-tenth of the misconduct Clinton considers before lunch, would have been severely dealt with. Within the past three months, a respected general awaiting the capstone promotion of his career has been disgraced and had his career upended due to one errant pass at a colleague. One pass.
For Clinton, who has drunk so copiously from the cup of privilege, to protest now that he is not being treated like everyone else is rank.
Nor was President Clinton's misconduct purely a matter of private illicit conduct. Let's recall that this is the first president to be held in contempt by a federal judge (he paid a fine of $90,000 -- a bit more than that demanded for petty offenses). In her contempt citation, Judge Susan Webber Wright said, "The President's deposition 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.'"
If President Clinton had taken seriously his obligations as a lawyer (to say nothing of his obligations as a leader), he would have settled the Paula Jones lawsuit years before instead of swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and then lying through his teeth.
By the standards applied to everyone, Clinton deserves disbarment. His dishonesty has been chronic and egregious. But the fact that Clinton is no ordinary lawyer only enhances the argument for disbarment. This is what mothers call a teachable moment. Bill Clinton is now the most famous liar and perjurer in the whole world -- maybe the most famous liar in history.
Through disbarment, the Arkansas courts can demonstrate that some people and
institutions still uphold ordinary virtues like