- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

There is "no place in the law," said the Arkansas State Supreme Court in 1998, "for a man or a woman who will not tell the truth even when his interest is involved." This week a court committee decided that even the nation's highest elected official must abide by that standard and commenced disbarment proceedings against President Clinton. Said the Arkansas Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Conduct in a letter to the court, Mr. Clinton's actions in the Monica Lewinsky case "constituted serious misconduct."

What troubled the committee is what troubled the U.S. House of Representatives, a federal judge and even a few members of Mr. Clinton's own Democratic Party. It is, in the words of U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, Mr. Clinton's "intentionally false" testimony about his behavior in the days when he was dating Miss Lewinsky, a White House intern. Asked whether he had had sexual relations with her, in connection with a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by Paula Jones, the president flatly denied it.

Alas for Mr. Clinton, traces of his own DNA showed up on a semen-stained dress belonging to Miss Lewinsky. Since it would have strained the credulity of even the president's most avid backers to suggest that a vast right-wing conspiracy had planted this damning evidence, the president acknowledged that as a matter of fact he had had relations with her of a sort, but not exactly sexual ones. The man who famously debated the meaning of "is" argued he hadn't really lied about having sex with her: Since Miss Lewinsky was performing oral sex on him, Mr. Clinton argued, she was having sex with him, but technically he wasn't having sex with her. That made sense to Mr. Clinton's defenders but not to Judge Wright, who cited him for contempt of court and fined him more than $90,000. Mr. Clinton did not challenge the finding or the fine.

In the wake of impeachment proceedings, both Judge Wright and a public-interest law firm in Atlanta, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, filed complaints with the Committee on Professional Conduct to consider as part of any disciplinary proceeding against Mr. Clinton. An unspecified "majority" of the six-member panel decided for disbarment.

Mr. Clinton disputes the decision, but says in his huskiest voice that his lawyer alone will handle the defense. "I promised myself," he told NBC's Tom Brokaw, "and I promised the American people when all the [impeachment] proceedings were over in Congress that I would take no further personal part." The implication of the president's remarks is that he is somehow doing us a favor with this selfless, high-minded stance. The truth is that Mr. Clinton doesn't want to be further tarnished by defending the indefensible in person. He doesn't want to have to argue, contrary to the Arkansas high court, that there is room in the law for people who don't tell the truth.

The case now goes to a circuit court in Little Rock, where a judge will oversee possibly lengthy disbarment proceedings. One hopes the judge will be no more receptive to lying lawyers than the state high court was.

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