- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2000

When he was asked during this week's press conference what he thought of the prospect of being excluded from practicing law in Arkansas, President Clinton was not amused but he was not going to say a word. In all that has happened subsequently to the Paula Jones lawsuit, "I have left a lot of things unsaid which I might have otherwise said," Mr. Clinton said. "And I hope I can continue to do that. And that's what I'm going to do today. I don't think I should be spending my time on this. I think I'm working for the American people, and I'm going to do my best to adhere to that. And as a result, I have refrained from saying a lot of things I would otherwise have said, as an American citizen and as a lawyer." Nobody can say nothing quite like Mr. Clinton.

Whether Mr. Clinton will favor us with a more explicit version of his opinions on the Paula Jones case once he leaves office, we will soon find out. Others have not been so reticent about his conduct and the harm he has done. There may well be as Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright wrote when she cited Mr. Clinton in contempt of court "no escaping the fact that the president … undermined the integrity of the judicial system." But does "undermining the integrity of the judicial system" constitute an offense of sufficient gravity to the Arkansas legal community in the year 2000 to cause Bill Clinton to be disbarred?

That is the question now before the professional conduct committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court, the state's legal ethics committee, which last month had to be goaded publicly into beginning formal disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Clinton based on two complaints filed long ago: the first by the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation in September, 1998, one week after the completion of the Starr Report; and the second by Judge Wright in April, 1999, on the day after she found Mr. Clinton in contempt of court for giving "intentionally false" testimony during the Paula Jones case.

Why has the committee been dragging its feet? Committee members have commented only sparingly on recent events, leaving this and other questions about the case largely unanswered. Not too surprisingly, mum's the word at the White House as well. Considering all the zipped lips and closed-door machinations surrounding this significant proceeding, a recent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story about the political contributions made by some of those charged with voting on the question of Mr. Clinton's disbarment should be carefully considered.

It turns out that three of the seven members of the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct have contributed to the Democratic Party of Arkansas or to Democratic candidates. And two of the seven members of the Alternate Committee on Professional Conduct have donated money to Mr. Clinton's presidential campaigns, as well as to other Democratic campaigns. The sums donated by the five arbiters in question are not astronomical; the 30 contributions total roughly $16,000, probably not enough to have bought a cup of White House coffee. Nonetheless, they indicate what you might call a healthy party, and even pro-Clinton, spirit. James Neal, executive director of the committee, told the Arkansas newspaper that the committee's rules leave it to the judgment of the individual members to decide whether to recuse themselves from a complaint case. So far no one has done so.

"I feel confident that the committee will do its duties in a professional, nonpartisan, fair and impartial manner," said Louis B. "Bucky" Jones of Fayetteville, president of the Arkansas Bar Association. Let's hope. It's worth noting, as did Howard Brill, a professor of legal ethics and professional responsibility at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, that the professional conduct committee has in recent years held Arkansas lawyers to increasingly higher standards. "Over the last five or six years, the committee has gotten tougher and imposed sanctions more often," he said.

Also worth noting is the fact the Mr. Clinton is not the only big Arkansas fish to become tangled up in legal disciplinary proceedings. The professional conduct committee last November filed a disbarment complaint, now pending, against former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who was convicted of two felonies in 1996 during the Whitewater investigation. The committee maintains that Tucker, Mr. Clinton's successor in the Arkansas state house, broke Rule 8.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct by committing a "criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer," and for engaging in "dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation," and "in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice."

Does any of this sound awfully familiar?

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