- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

Actions have consequences. Or do they? One of the hallmarks of our age is the many actions that fail to lead to logical consequences or worse, to any consequences at all. The impeachment of President Clinton offers the archetype of this disturbing disconnection. That is, Mr. Clinton's actions were tagged indefensible and inexcusable even by his defenders, but he was nonetheless defended and excused by a Senate acquittal. We may explain this in part (and in charity) by considering the human condition of our legislators, a poverty of spirit induced by a near-pathological fear of polls, James Carville's mouth, and other such ephemera.

Courtroom law, of course, is supposed to be different, written to be immutable in the face of human foibles and caprice. As such, Mr. Clinton's perjurious and justice-obstructing actions in Judge Susan Webber Wright's courtroom led to momentous consequences last April when Judge Wright, for the first time in history, cited a president for contempt of court, fining Mr. Clinton $90,000, and lodging her complaint against him with the disciplinary committee of the Arkansas bar. Was that the end of it? Hardly. Last week, the Supreme Court of Arkansas court issued an unusual public order to the Arkansas bar, directing it to begin formal disciplinary proceedings against President Clinton, if it has not done so already.

It seems that the bar's disciplinary committee a seven-member panel known as the Supreme Court Committee on Professional Responsibility (CPR) headed by James A. Neal has been playing that old Clintonesque game of drag-and-delay, allowing the federal judge's complaint to languish unattended. Thanks to the recent prodding of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which lodged a complaint of its own against the president in September 1998, the Arkansas court has demanded action. The consequences would seem to be inevitable: Mr. Clinton should be disbarred.

According to Judge Wright's finding, Mr. Clinton repeatedly and knowingly committed perjury in a federal courtroom and obstructed justice. In the judge's own words, "There is simply no escaping the fact that the president … undermined the integrity of the judicial system." If that doesn't constitute professional misconduct subject to disbarment, the American Bar Association, Arkansas chapter included, may just as well shred its hallowed code of professional conduct for distribution to the hamsters of the nation.

The Arkansas court has ordered the bar disciplinary committee to notify the president of the charges against him. If he does not respond within 30 days, or within any extension of time that is granted, the court said, Mr. Neal, the committee's director, "shall proceed to issue ballots to the committee members." And vote.

There is, of course, more at stake here than the president's license to practice law in Arkansas. Symbolically, the continued resilience of our core belief in one law for mighty and meek rides on the Arkansas bar's deliberations. Should Bill Clinton escape the judgment of his peers, a judgment any other attorney could expect under similar circumstances, his legacy would serve only to undermine the integrity of the judicial system further. As Theodore Roosevelt said in 1903, "No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it." Bill Clinton did not obey the law. The political realm could not agree on the consequences; the legal realm is obligated to do so.

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