Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 17, 1998; Page A01 DALLAS, April 16 A teary Paula Jones, barely able to compose herself, announced today that she will appeal a federal judge's ruling that her sexual harassment case against President Clinton has no merit.
"I have not come this far to see the law let men who have done such things dodge their responsibility," said Jones, her high-pitched voice quivering as she faced a packed press conference here. "I believe what Mr. Clinton did to me was wrong, and the law protects women who are subjected to that kind of abuse of power."
It was one of the few times the public has heard Jones speak since she alleged in a 1994 civil lawsuit that Clinton had dropped his pants and asked her for oral sex in a Little Rock hotel room on May 8, 1991, when she was a low-level state employee and he was governor of Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright threw out Jones's case on April 1, saying that Clinton's alleged behavior may have been "boorish and offensive" but did not constitute sexual harassment. Jones said nothing in the wake of Wright's decision until today, when she and her lawyers made clear they would continue to press the legal battle surrounding President Clinton's personal life to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as he finishes his remaining 2½ years in office.
While many legal experts said Jones faces an uphill battle, the case could make its way again to the Supreme Court, which already set one precedent last year by decreeing that the Jones lawsuit could proceed while Clinton was in office.
Jones, wearing a gray-blue suit, seemed nervous from the moment she walked into the downtown hotel conference room, crowded with cameras and hot lights and reporters. She choked up after uttering just a few words, as she tried to read a prepared statement that said she was "shocked" by Wright's decision to throw out the case. After a prolonged silence as she struggled to speak, she was able to continue only after husband, Stephen, came to her side to comfort her.
Clinton was in Santiago, Chile, for an international summit and brushed off any talk about Jones or independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, saying, "I spent my day with people who are interested in human problems and not so interested in politics."
In Washington, his attorney, Robert S. Bennett, issued a statement repeating that Clinton "unequivocally" denied Jones's allegations. "We are confident that the appellate court will not permit Paula Jones and her supporters to pursue this case," Bennett said. "It is unfortunate that our legal system can nonetheless continued to be abused by Mrs. Jones's political and financial supporters who wish to harm the president."
White House aides said they were confident the appeal would do little to Clinton's political standing because the public already has made its judgment on Jones and her allegations. "Politically, it's over," said presidential counselor Paul Begala. "I don't want to speak ill of the dead and this case is dead."
In Wright's April 1 ruling, the judge maintained that Jones had failed to prove that she was damaged either personally or professionally by Clinton's alleged sexual overture, meaning that there were "no genuine issues for trial." The case had been scheduled to go to trial next month.
Wright concluded that regardless of whether Clinton made the alleged sexual advance, Jones did not suffer any quid pro quo harassment in the workplace because she rebuffed Clinton. Wright also diminished the encounter as a single incident "a mere sexual proposition" that fell far below the legal standard needed to establish a "hostile workplace" in a harassment case.
Jones lead attorney Donovan Campbell Jr. responded today by saying that "we do not think the law permits a male supervisor to expose himself to his female subordinates and ask for sexual favors."
"There is no 'one free flash' rule recognized in the law," he said.
Campbell said the Jones appeal will address the issues of whether she suffered tangible job detriment and emotional damages, as well as revisit her claims that Clinton's team obstructed justice and suppressed evidence.
Asked if their case would be affected if the appeals process continues until after Clinton leaves office, Campbell said, "Mr. Clinton has been sued individually and personally, not as president. We frankly don't care whether he is president of the United States or busing tables at Luby's cafeteria when this lawsuit comes to trial. The legal issues are still the same."
Campbell also did not back away from the strategy of attempting to introduce evidence about Clinton's dealings with other women a tactic Wright had criticized. Campbell acknowledged that while there can be no formal discovery during the appeal, Jones's legal team can continue to informally "gather evidence of other women" to be used should the case ever come to trial.
Campbell said that Jones is open to offers for settlement from the president but that there was nothing on the table. Jones last year rebuffed a tentative $700,000 settlement proposal, claiming that it did not include strong enough language from the president clearing her name.
"The problem in this case so far has been [that] there haven't been any rational settlement offers from the other side," Campbell said. "If some adult in control of the other side of this case would like to come forward and make a rational settlement offer, or even agree to engage in a rational settlement discussion. . . . We will certainly be open to that."
John W. Whitehead said today that his Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute will continue to finance expenses associated with the case and the appeal. "We're in it for the long haul, no matter what it costs," he said, adding that the institute has so far spent nearly $300,000 on the case.
But none of her advisers could answer how Jones and her family will be able to live day to day since her husband was terminated from his job as a ticket agent for Northwest Airlines last week. Stephen Jones has filed a grievance through the union but has not heard back.
The Jones legal team also indicated that the role of Susan Carpenter-McMillan who has served as Jones's self-appointed spokeswoman would be reduced. A press release said that Carpenter-McMillan "has never been" Jones's spokeswoman and said all future media requests would go through the Dallas law firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke.
Carpenter-McMillan's free-wheeling and often inflammatory statements about the case have been a source of tension among Jones's advisers for months and contributed to the resignation of her previous lawyers last year. "She is and will continue to be a good friend," Campbell said after the news conference. "She is not a legal agent and never has been."
Staff writer Thomas W. Lippman in Santiago contributed to this report.
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