- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2000

On Aug. 24, 1998, in an op-ed titled, "Another woman wronged," we wrote on this page that Judge Susan Webber Wright should hold Bill Clinton in contempt for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky during his sworn deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit, i.e., for obstructing a judicial proceeding, which Judge Wright presided over. Subsequently, on Sept. 2, 1998, Landmark Legal Foundation petitioned Judge Wright to hold Mr. Clinton in contempt. On April 12, 1999, after the completion of the impeachment proceedings against Mr. Clinton, Judge Wright issued her memorandum opinion and order holding Mr. Clinton in civil contempt of court.

Judge Wright's ruling included several important findings, among them:

"It is difficult to construe the president's sworn statements in this civil lawsuit concerning his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky as anything other than a willful refusal to obey this court's discovery… Simply put, the president's deposition testimony regarding whether he had ever been alone with Ms. Lewinsky was intentionally false, and his statements regarding whether he had ever engaged in sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky likewise were intentionally false, notwithstanding tortured definitions and interpretations of the term 'sexual relations.' "

"… [I]t simply is not acceptable to employ deceptions and falsehoods in an attempt to obstruct the judicial process, understandable as his aggravation with plaintiff's lawsuit may have been."

Judge Wright's ruling went unchallenged by Mr. Clinton. As a graduate of Yale Law School, a former law professor and Arkansas attorney general, Mr. Clinton is well aware of the legal doctrine of issue preclusion, which used to be called res judicata and collateral estoppel. Under this principle of law, a matter once litigated and decided against a party binds that party in all subsequent actions, even though the opposing party may change.

The policy behind this rule of law is obvious: Courts have better things to do than litigate the same issue over and over again for the same party. Also, once that party has had an opportunity to litigate an issue, that party has received all the due process he is entitled to. He had his day in court, and he doesn't get repeat visits. Therefore, when Mr. Clinton was adjudged by Judge Wright to be in contempt of court because he lied and obstructed the judicial process, her findings were set in stone.

The Arkansas Bar, responding to a referral filed by Judge Wright and an ethics complaint filed several months earlier by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, has recommended that Mr. Clinton be disbarred for his offenses. The Arkansas Bar will now ask the Pulaski Circuit Court to strip Mr. Clinton of his law license. Despite the fact that the Arkansas Bar is now Mr. Clinton's adverse party, it is entitled as a matter of law to a finding that Mr. Clinton lied and obstructed the judicial process and, consequently, acted in contempt of court.

It's important to remember that Mr. Clinton chose not to appeal Judge Wright's ruling, which he could have done. (Part of the reason might have been that Judge Wright explicitly held in reserve her right to hold Mr. Clinton in criminal contempt.) In so doing, Mr. Clinton undoubtedly knew that Judge Wright's findings cannot now be challenged in the disciplinary proceedings that Judge Wright herself instituted.

Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton's impeachment lawyer, David Kendall, has proclaimed that "We will vigorously dispute it [i.e., the disbarment recommendation] in a court of law." Doesn't Bob Bennett speak for Mr. Clinton on Paula Jones-related matters, such as disbarment? Perhaps he has finally washed his hands of Mr. Clinton. In any event, there's nothing to "vigorously dispute." The time to challenge Judge Wright's ruling, which is the basis for the disbarment recommendation, has passed. The only question remaining is how long it will take the Pulaski Circuit Court to yank Mr. Clinton's law license.

Mark R. Levin is president of Landmark Legal Foundation. Arthur F. Fergenson is a former special assistant United States attorney.

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