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Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2000 /9 Adar I, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Resign, Mr. President -- from the bar -- IT WAS WELL that Slick Willie, more formally known as William Jefferson Clinton on state occasions like impeachment, did not resign the presidency. So that future generations will have a voluminous record of what the America of 1998-99 thought was important and what was unimportant in our politics, law, character and general deportment.

But there is something Bill Clinton would do well to resign. Indeed, he'd do all of us a favor here in Arkansas by relinquishing it -- his license to practice law.

Imagine the trouble, embarrassment, hearings, paperwork and general argumentation the president would spare us if, much like Richard Nixon resigning from the California bar, Bill Clinton would leave the practice of law as quickly and quietly as he could.

Then there would be no need to continue this byzantine legal process that now has consumed an inordinate amount of time and has started to raise questions about just how interested the state Supreme Court's committee on professional conduct is in professional conduct. This case has been lingering for months.

Yet the record is already clear, unmistakable, and duly signed by a federal judge in the much-abused personage of Susan Webber Wright, one more Arkansan the president played for a fool. Judge Wright caught on, as so many of us eventually did, and affirmed what had been obvious for some time:

"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.''

Somebody like that may or may not belong in the Oval Office -- opinion was pretty evenly divided during the Senate trial -- but nobody like that belongs in the bar. The notion of such a paragon continuing to serve as an attorney and officer of the court would only confirm what entirely too many people already think about the ethics of lawyers.

The president can save this state's Supreme Court some trouble by resigning from the bar as discreetly as he accepted Judge Wright's decision and paid his $90,000 fine. (Yes, once again another "bogus'' investigation into this president's conduct hit pay dirt.)

Then there's poor James Neal of the court's committee on professional conduct. Why put him through the trouble of organizing and reviewing all the unmistakable evidence still again?

And why would the president himself want to prolong matters? Hasn't he embarrassed himself sufficiently?

Please, Mr. President, just go.

Yes, it's going to be amusing when William Jefferson Clinton now of Chappaqua, N.Y., makes periodic visits to his presidential library in Arkansas, his home away from home, to lecture our young people -- on law and ethics, maybe? -- but must he do so as a member of the Arkansas bar? That would be to venture beyond the usual, unavoidable irony into parody.

It was farcical enough when Counselor Clinton was asked to address the American Bar Association two weeks after he'd been found in contempt.

And how long is presidential aide Jim Kennedy going to have to go on dodging questions about the president's scandals? Wasn't Mr. Kennedy supposed to have resigned as the president's last official scandal spokesman in a long line?

Something tells me that this president will have a scandal spokesman long after he leaves the White House, even if he's reduced to self-appointed ones like James Carville, who's made a career of defending the indefensible.

The Carvilles of the world can rest assured that they'll never be short of things to defend in this president's record. But the quickest way to end this particular scandal would be for the president to write a formal letter of resignation from the Arkansas bar. I bet the state's Supreme Court would accept it in a, yes, New York minute.

Speaking of irony, which is almost unavoidable in this Age of Clinton, the legal establishment's extended circumambulations in the matter of William Jefferson Clinton, Esq., do point to one clear conclusion about how constitutional standards have evolved from 1789 to 2000, to wit: A fellow may be good enough to be president of the United States, but not good enough to be ... a lawyer.

Hey, what a country.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate