- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2001


The Supreme Court opened its new term today with a rebuke of former President Clinton, suspending him from practicing law before the justices. Mr. Clinton was among 18 lawyers nationwide who got the same discipline.

The justices gave Mr. Clinton 40 days to say why he should not be permanently disbarred from practicing law before them. A Clinton lawyer said the former president would argue that high court disbarment would be inappropriate.

Mr. Clinton was admitted to the Supreme Court bar in 1977 but has never argued a case there. Most lawyers admitted there never do, but the right to do so is considered an honor.

The court did not explain its action, but Supreme Court disbarment often follows disbarment in lower courts. The court acted after it was notified by the Arkansas Supreme Court that Mr. Clinton's Arkansas law license was suspended for five years and he paid a $25,000 fine.

On a somber note in the courtroom today, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist began the 2001-2002 term by asking fellow justices and others in the packed room to remember the hijacking victims and their families, including chief Bush administration appellate lawyer Theodore Olson, whose wife was killed in the plane that hit the Pentagon.

Mr. Olson removed his glasses and wiped his eyes several times as Judge Rehnquist spoke.

In the Clinton case, the court followed its standard rules, which include suspending him from practice in the court and giving him a chance to say why he should not be disbarred.

Typically, the court issues a final disbarment order sometime after the 40 days elapse.

Mr. Clinton agreed to an Arkansas fine and suspension Jan. 19, the day before he left office, as part of an agreement with Independent Counsel Robert Ray to end the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Ray had taken over the prosecution from Kenneth Starr.

The agreement with Mr. Ray also satisfied the legal effort by the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct to disbar Clinton for giving misleading testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.

“This suspension is simply a consequence of the voluntary settlement entered into last January with the Arkansas Bar,'' said Clinton lawyer David E. Kendall. “Pursuant to the Supreme Court's order, we will show cause why disbarment is not appropriate.''

Mr. Clinton is a native of Arkansas and was governor there before he was elected president in 1992. He moved to New York after he left office but has not applied to practice law there.

Should Mr. Clinton apply, the Arkansas suspension would be honored, said Frank Ciervo, a spokesman for the New York State Bar Association.

Judge Rehnquist and the court he leads have dealt with several Clinton scandals. The justices, including the two chosen by Mr. Clinton, were unanimous in their 1997 ruling that Paula Jones could sue Clinton alleging sexual harassment.

The following year Rehnquist drew grumbles from partisan Democrats when, acting alone, he rejected White House attempts to shield Secret Service agents and Clinton lawyers from having to testify in the Lewinsky investigation.

Amid the loud partisanship of the Clinton impeachment hearings, Judge Rehnquist won praise from Mr. Clinton's lawyers as judge to the Senate's jury. His own views, if any, on guilt or innocence were not apparent.

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