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Jewish World Review May 16, 2000 /11 Iyar, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports


No end in sight: The long disbarment -- It was only a vague hope at best: Maybe, just maybe, shame might surface at last, and Bill Clinton, Esq., would spare his home state the protracted embarrassment of having to disbar him.

If he would just turn in his law license, a la Richard M. Nixon, another unsavory member of the bar, this president's home state wouldn't have to take it away from him.

But the latest word is that the Hon. William Jefferson Clinton is planning to brazen out his disbarment, too. Why not? He got past his impeachment, didn't he?

For that matter, President (and Counselor) Clinton successfully misled a federal judge with his testimony, at least till Her Honor caught on and found him in contempt.

But why should such behavior be grounds for disbarment? On the contrary, isn't that what lawyers are supposed to do -- mislead?

The president's explanation for his conduct has a certain cynical wisdom about it. Once the word "lawyer'' has become an accepted synonym for "liar'' in the cynic's dictionary, he's got an airtight defense.

As was said again and again during the late unpleasantness over his impeachment: They all do it, don't they?

It's not the kind of defense that would fool the truly honorable Susan Webber Wright, who found that her old law professor had given false, misleading and evasive testimony in a deliberate attempt to obstruct the judicial process.

Judges tend to be a mite touchy when witnesses try to fool the court. It's not nice to fool Mother Justice. But this is only a committee on professional conduct that will be judging whether William Jefferson Clinton has met the standards of the Arkansas bar. And it's composed of Bill Clinton's fellow lawyers. The defense can hope that they'll be understanding.

The president's own high-paid and highly skilled attorneys, who have already seen him through so much, may figure they can get him out of this jam, too. We're all in for another extended review of his phony testimony and phonier explanations thereof. There they go again. Will it ever end? Probably not. Even after he's left office, William Jefferson Clinton will be a standard part of the law and history of impeachment.

Maybe the defense can get Dale Bumpers, the former senator from Arkansas, to deliver the summation again. He did a bang-up job during the late unpleasantness over impeachment.

But why, one wonders, would the president want to prolong this scandal? He didn't appeal Judge Wright's findings or the $90,000 fine she assessed him.

Is it the president's position that lawyers cited for contempt are ethical? And that this is the sort of thing one should tolerate in a member of this state's bar? It's a wonder he didn't appeal to what the Wall Street Journal, smearing a whole state, calls Arkansas Mores.

Bill Clinton's brief in defense of his actions isn't so much a response to those after his law license, but an attack on his native state's reputation. If his conduct was low, he seems to be saying, it's good enough for Arkansas.

This is the kind of argument that has to embarrass every fine lawyer in the state -- and, contrary to the all-too-general impression, this state has a number of them.

What excuse can the well-drilled ranks of Clinton apologists make for him this time? "They all do it''? That was their mantra during the Year of Impeachment. It's not exactly a tribute to the state's bar.

Or is it the president's position that he should be judged by different and lower standards precisely because he is president of the United States -- rather than some ordinary lawyer who's got to obey the rules?

Why not? The list of high offices an accused may have held is now routinely offered to explain why less should be expected of such a defendant rather than more. ("Your Honor, consider his years of dedicated public service!'') It's a curious inversion of old standards. Now, in a reversal of the biblical dictum, to whom much is given, little should be expected. Call it the Clinton legacy.

Unfortunately for Bill Clinton, Arkansas is better than others think. This committee on professional conduct just might actually insist on professional conduct.

It's a little late to deny his contempt of court, his obstruction of the judicial process, his evasions and falsehoods and attempts to mislead and willful failure to obey the law. The U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division, spelled all that out in depressing detail.

To quote The Hon. Susan Webber Wright, "the record demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the President responded to Plaintiff's questions by giving false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process. The President acknowledged as much in his public admission that he `misled people.' ... there simply is no escaping the fact that the President violated this Court's discovery Orders and thereby undermined the integrity of the judicial system.'' And so exhaustively on.

Does anyone still pretend that this same William J. Clinton has headed "the most ethical administration in history''? That phrase hasn't been used in any way but ironically for years.

One would like to think it is not too late to salvage some semblance of Arkansas' dignity from the ethical wreckage of the Clinton Years. And there's a simple way to do it, however long it takes, however extended the delays and denials ahead: Disbar the shyster.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate