By Lorraine Adams
"We all laughed," said partner David M. Pyke. "We thought it was a joke."
Four months later, the "joke" has become an all-consuming enterprise for the Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke law firm, which occupies an office suite in a taupe-colored glass Dallas high-rise. The Jones case, now scheduled for trial in late May, began as a messy lawsuit about Gov. Bill Clinton's behavior while chief executive of a small southern state but has led to a grave presidential crisis, largely because of Jones's new attorneys and the private investigators they hired.
Several hours of interviews with Jones's legal team and documents filed in the case reveal a legal strategy that has changed radically since September. What had been a straightforward sexual harassment suit -- based on Jones's assertion that Clinton exposed himself and propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel suite in 1991 -- has become a complex sequence of allegations that will attempt to portray Clinton before a jury as a chronic sexual predator who uses his official powers "under color of law" to coerce women.
If Jones's lawyers present the case they contend they have assembled, the trial could afford an embarrassing procession of women, either badly treated or handsomely helped by Clinton, depending on their willingness to cavort sexually with him. On the other hand, if the Jones depiction of the president's conduct is less than promised, the trial could turn into a pageant of exculpation for a popular and, some feel, unfairly accused president.
Unlike Jones's previous attorneys, who withdrew last summer -- three years after they originally filed suit -- the new Jones team has extensive experience in federal discrimination cases, and it has hired seasoned investigators who have interviewed hundreds of witnesses across the country. And unlike most such cases, which are filed under a federal sexual harassment statute, Jones has sued Clinton under a civil rights statute alleging that he used his elected office to deprive her of her constitutional rights in the same way someone who is wrongfully arrested and beaten is deprived of the right to due process. Moreover, in a second avenue of legal attack, the Jones team will attempt to prove that Clinton further violated her rights by "systematically granting, directly and indirectly, governmental and employment benefits, appointments, advancements, raises, promotions, positions and perquisites to other women who succumbed to Defendant Clinton's predatory custom, usage, habit, pattern, and practice of using State payroll, time, vehicles, personnel and resources to solicit sexual favors." Jones, who says she didn't succumb, was deprived of such career benefits, according to her petition.
Clinton's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, did not return telephone calls asking for comment. He has described Jones's allegations as "baseless" and "false." Clinton has said that he may have met Jones, although he has no recollection of her. But he denies making any improper advances.
Experts on sexual harassment law say Jones's new legal team has taken a bolder but also riskier approach because many judges have ruled that evidence about rewarding other women for consensual sex is not admissible.
"They have created a heavier burden of proof," said Kathy Rodgers, executive director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York. "But they don't have to prove every fact they allege. They could still prevail on what happened in that hotel suite to Paula Jones."
Enforcing God's Law
In 1981, Campbell recalls, he heard an audiotape of attorney John W. Whitehead talking about an organization he was founding called the Rutherford Institute. Campbell was intrigued enough to call Whitehead, the beginning of an enduring friendship and legal alliance.
Based in Charlottesville, the institute takes its name from Samuel Rutherford, a 17th century Scottish intellectual who argued that all people -- even monarchs -- are subject to God's law. From that simple premise, the Rutherford Institute evolved into a more controversial entity, something akin to a legal aid society for conservative religious causes. Among the 450 cases the institute says it played some role in last year were the defense of an antiabortion leafleteer and petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of a San Francisco official who said he was fired for endorsing the Bible's proscriptions against homosexuality.
Campbell, a 47-year-old Princeton alumnus whose father was an Air Force doctor, estimates he has taken between two and 10 Rutherford cases a year. He is proudest, he said, of his successful defense of the Texas law barring sodomy, all the way to the Supreme Court in 1981, and again, in state courts, in 1991.
Campbell and his partners formed their small firm after breaking away from one of Texas's most prestigious law practices, Locke Purnell Rain Harrell, to form a civil litigation boutique. Not all the partners say they routinely accept Rutherford cases. Pyke, for example, said he takes his pro bono work from the local bar association referral service. James A. Fisher last week defended, pro bono, a 75-year-old woman about to be evicted from her home. "It hurts me to be a called a right wing extremist," said Fisher, 41.
When the call came last September from Whitehead, who had been in contact with Jones through an intermediary, the skeptical partners spent two weeks researching the case.
The firm's youngest lawyer, 30-year-old McCord Wilson, whose parents are ranchers near Abilene, pulled off the Internet every article or legal filing he could find about the case. One of the most influential was journalist Stuart Taylor's 1996 story in the American Lawyer that described how Jones, then a $6.35 an hour Arkansas state employee, said she was approached on May 8, 1991, by state trooper Danny Ferguson during a conference at Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel. Ferguson said Clinton wanted to meet Jones, according to her account, and Ferguson escorted her to a hotel suite. There, Jones alleged, Clinton asked her to perform a sex act, but she refused and fled.
Jones filed suit in May 1994 after reading a magazine article that briefly described a woman named only as "Paula" who wanted to be Clinton's girlfriend and was escorted to Clinton's hotel room by an unnamed trooper. This false story, Jones said, "threatened her marriage, her friendships, and her family relationships."
Ferguson, also named as a defendant with Clinton, acknowledges that he escorted her to the room, but disputes other aspects of her account.
"Unlike most cases like this, she had a witness placing her in the room with Bill Clinton," said Pyke, 36. "He was hostile, but still, that was a huge thing."
Campbell, Fisher and Robert E. Rader then flew to California and spent a long day with Jones, her husband, their children and Jones's adviser and friend, Susan Carpenter-McMillan. "We had to satisfy ourselves that Paula was telling the truth," Fisher said.
The Rutherford Institute offered to underwrite legal expenses -- private investigators, deposition expenses, jury consultants and other costs -- but would not pay the lawyers' fees. "We knew that Bennett would pursue collateral issues, try to eat up our time. It would be scorched earth litigation -- and we would never recover our hourly fees," T. Wesley Holmes of Rader Campbell said.
The firm signed a contingency fee agreement with Jones. If the lawyers prevailed, they would collect part of her jury award or settlement. Because two of the claims in the original suit have been dropped, Jones is asking for at least $525,000 plus attorney fees. But her previous lawyers, Gilbert K. Davis and Joseph Cammarata, have attached a $800,000 lien to any award for their three years of work on the case.
"At first I thought, why would we want this? What a nightmare. But I think I realized, finally, that this is a historic case, a once in a career opportunity," said Holmes, 33. "I thought, if we don't take it, we'll be kicking ourselves for the rest of our careers."
Rader, 53, said he took it because his Occupational Safety and Health Administration practice "for a long time has included the representation of people who have been abused by government."
In the Jones case, Rader concluded, "Somebody had gotten elected to a position of authority and used that position to hire troopers to procure women for him and trade in state jobs in exchange for sexual favors. It was a classic abuse of authority situation."
After Jones filed her suit in May 1994, the case was delayed for three years after Bennett filed a motion arguing that a sitting president should be immune from civil suits. Last spring, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the president could be sued.
Jones's original complaint sought redress under civil rights statutes often used by arrested individuals to allege misconduct by law enforcement. Jones had to file under the civil rights laws because she had missed the statute of limitations deadline for filing under federal sexual harassment statutes.
Casting Wider Net
Last summer, Davis and Cammarata began searching for other women in an effort to show that Clinton made a practice of unwanted sexual advances. They subpoenaed Kathleen E. Willey, a former White House volunteer, who allegedly was fondled by Clinton in the White House in 1993, according to one source familiar with Willey's account. But the lawyers, operating on a slim budget, had no full-time private investigators and were unable to cast a wide net in searching for patterns of Clinton behavior.
Jones parted ways with Davis and Cammarata after she declined to accept a reported $700,000 settlement offer from the president and a vague statement that she had done nothing improper or sexual during any 1991 encounter that may have occurred. When Rader Campbell took over in October, the firm hired Accuracy Inc., a private investigation outfit. The husband-and-wife team works from a 26-acre farm in Lindale, Tex., about 70 miles southeast of Dallas.
Rick Lambert, 46, is a former Dallas homicide detective; Beverly Lambert, 38, is also an experienced private investigator. They came to see the Jones case not only as a job but also as a cause.
"I have voted for Democrats in my time," Rick Lambert said. "We do think of ourselves as Christian conservatives, that's why we live in this community. It's very Christian minded. I was raised on the Bible and although I've been a rogue, we still believe in what's right."
The work of the Lamberts became apparent on Dec. 8 when the Jones team filed an amended complaint that signaled a new strategic direction.
The suit previously had rested largely on one legal premise: that Clinton had discriminated against Jones by having his trooper bring her to a room where the governor could allegedly proposition her. But the new complaint contained an important addition: that Jones was also discriminated against because she did not succumb to Clinton's proposition, while other women who had received jobs, appointments, promotions and other perquisites -- benefits she was denied. The investigators' findings had convinced the attorneys that they could prove a broad pattern of Clinton misconduct, Campbell said.
Among those deposed in recent months were former troopers Larry Patterson, L.D. Brown and Roger Perry, who have alleged in media accounts that they acted as intermediaries in Gov. Clinton's pursuit of women. Gennifer Flowers, who says she had a 12-year affair with Clinton and that he then helped her get a job at an Arkansas state agency, was also deposed.
The Jones team also subpoenaed documents from the Little Rock firm of Bruce R. Lindsey, now the White House deputy counsel and one of Clinton's closest associates during his days as governor. Among the numerous documents demanded were any "cancelled checks, wire-transfer records, bank statements, agreements, receipts mentioning, or generated as a result of a payment . . . for the benefit of any individual . . . who has ever had sexual relations with Defendant Clinton," according to court filings.
Documents also have been sought concerning Raymond L. "Buddy" Young, who was head of the state trooper detail providing security for the governor, and later named to head a federal office in Texas, according to court records. Jones's lawyers subpoenaed records concerning another former state trooper, Ronnie Anderson, who was given a job at a company partly owned by Young, according to the American Spectator.
Court filings show Jones's team has demanded any notes from Lindsey's old law firm regarding conversations about women with any Clinton aides, particularly George Stephanopoulos and Betsey Wright, two key advisers during the 1992 presidential campaign.
Citing a gag order imposed by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock, Campbell and his associates declined to spell out what their investigators and wide-ranging subpoenas have found, but they disputed a recent front-page account in the New York Times that they have failed to locate significant new witnesses who describe a pattern of Clinton's sexual predations. Campbell said some important witnesses helpful to his case need not be deposed before the trial and therefore their testimony is not yet known to Clinton's lawyers.
Jones's lawsuit charges that her career was thwarted because some of her supervisors at the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission were "hostile and rude"; while she was on maternity leave, her job was eliminated and she was transferred to a position that should have brought higher pay but in her case did not; other employees received merit increases, but Jones never received a raise beyond a cost of living increase.
A motion filed Thursday by the Jones team asserts that Judge Wright had indicated in mid-January that Jones "already had much damaging evidence . . . to prove [a] pattern or practice of soliciting sex for defendant Clinton in violation of the rights of numerous women." It is unclear whether the judge has in fact reached such a conclusion.
Amid the intense evidence gathering, the Jones team discovered Monica Lewinsky.
The public disclosure of the former intern's claims of a relationship with the president kicked Starr's criminal investigation into a new area but, to the dismay of Jones's lawyers, Judge Wright on Jan. 29 ruled that any evidence concerning Lewinsky could not be used in the civil case. Lewinsky, for whom job interviews were arranged by Clinton associates, potentially provided corroborating evidence for their contention that Clinton rewarded women who had sexual relations with him, Fisher said.
"We were blindsided by the judge's ruling," Fisher said. Partner Holmes added, "It's problematic. But by no means fatal."
Wright is considering a motion from Bennett to begin the Jones trial two months earlier, on March 23. Pending her ruling, Bennett is expected to ask the judge to throw out the case in a "summary judgment."
"The next great blip on the radar is the motion for summary judgment and our response," Campbell said.
That response will include extensive excerpts from depositions and documents, which could be made public by the end of February, Campbell said. "There is very little legal precedent for sealing pleadings in a federal lawsuit," he added. "Discovery matters, yes, but not summary judgment motions and responses."
If the judge allows the case to go to trial, Campbell and Rader said, Bennett likely will ask her to limit the case to what went on in the Excelsior Hotel suite between Clinton and Jones, excluding evidence concerning other women.
And should the case go to trial, Jones will be trying to persuade a jury of Little Rock citizens, many of whom consider Clinton a beloved native son.
"If the jury we end up with is close to being a reasonable jury, and if the judge in the case continues to be reasonable," Campbell said, "I think we have a very strong case."
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