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Jewish World Review Sept. 12, 2000 / 11 Elul, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

In the matter of No. 73019 -- LITTLE ROCK | Comes now the lawyer whose Arkansas Bar Association identification number is 73019 to explain why he should keep it. It's another disbarment case, and there is nothing unusual about the case itself -- the lies, the evasions and, above all the reliance on the legal truth, as opposed to just the truth.

They never get it, do they? Or they think we won't.

Most typical of all, our defendant doubtless thought of himself as much too clever to be caught. That may be the one distinguishing trait of shysters whatever their variety. The only remarkable thing about No. 73019, aka the 42nd president of the United States of America, is his political office.

Everything else about this squalid matter is familiar, including the awkwardness and embarrassment and general chore now visited on those who must decide what to do about another poor sap and his law license. He insists upon keeping it -- as if that piece of paper would somehow ward off the simple truth of all he has done.

And so, to avoid further embarrassment, he invites it. It's almost the story of his life, so familiar that interest faded long ago. We are all weary of thinking about his pettifoggery, talking about, arguing about it and trying to ignore it. We just want it to go away. That's what he's counting on.

The defendant's argument this time, filed right on deadline as usual, is that he didn't do it and doesn't deserve so severe a punishment for having done it.

How's that again? Well, it all depends on what it is.

The president's latest filing is enough to bring back how somebody summarized his defense in L'Affaire Lewinsky: It wasn't sex, and it was only sex.

The distinguished defendant's denials remain equally clear:

He denies that he gave "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process,'' despite a federal judge's ruling to the contrary.

He denies that he gave intentionally false testimony, as that same judge found.

He denies, again contrary to The Hon. Susan Webber Wright, that his "contumacious conduct in the Jones v. Clinton case, coming as it did from a member of the bar and chief law enforcement officer of this Nation, was without justification and undermined the integrity of the judicial system.''

And somewhere in this five-page list, he also denies 6(c), the finding that "in a televised Address to the Nation on August 17, 1998,'' he acknowledged that he "misled people'' in regard to his sworn testimony.

Or as Groucho Marx might put it if he were defense counsel, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?`

At the same time, the defense in this tangled web solemnly avers that Judge Wright's court order "speaks for itself.'' Indeed it does.

Perhaps the most curious claim of the defense is that to disbar him for these unfortunate little lapses -- remember that he hasn't been convicted of any felony -- would be "unprecedented in the circumstances of this case.''

For understandable reasons, learned counsel might not have wanted to delve into the clearest of precedents in this case, a 1998 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court denying admittance to the bar to an applicant who also had been convicted of no crime, who also claimed he had done "nothing legally wrong'' and who also had given "false, misleading and incomplete answers'' -- on a questionnaire.

It's the case of Shochet v. Arkansas Board of Law Examiners, in which a lawyer fighting for his license was found to have evinced "a pattern of less than full disclosure.'' Sound familiar?

That case eventually made it to the Supreme Court of Arkansas, which is where this one may be headed. Then the court decided that "an applicant's continued denial of an act for which he or she has been .... sanctioned is unacceptable.''

The court's opinion, handed down November 19, 1998, was based on some simple principles, namely:

Truthfulness, honesty and candor are "necessary for establishing a candidate's good moral character and hence his or her fitness to practice law.'' ... There simply is "no place in the law for a man or woman who cannot or will not tell the truth, even when his or her own interests are involved. In the legal profession, there must be a reverence for the truth.''

Simple truths, simply told. And the honor of the profession was upheld.

Of course, there was a difference between that case and this one. That shyster was not president of the United States.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate