Gag Order Lifted By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 1998; Page A12
A federal judge in Little Rock yesterday lifted the gag order she had imposed in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, allowing attorneys to disclose any remaining secret information from the dismissed case and opening for public inspection still-sealed documents.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who dismissed the Jones suit on April 1, ruled that there was no longer a reason to keep the confidentiality decree because so much detail about the case had been made public already through court filings or by news organizations quoting unnamed sources.
But Wright ordered that the names, addresses, occupations and other identifying information regarding women who were interviewed about their relationships with President Clinton remain cloaked and she gave lawyers for Clinton and Jones 10 days to appeal her ruling before it takes effect. Both sides had opposed the motion, filed by a consortium of news organizations, to lift the order.
"Having considered the matter, this Court concludes that the primary reasons for maintaining the Confidentiality Order are no longer in place and that the Confidentiality Order should be and hereby is vacated in part," Wright wrote.
In particular, she noted that her dismissal of the case means there will be no trial unless an appeals court overrules her and even then a trial would not be conducted until next year at the earliest. As a result, she wrote, "there is now no imminent trial in which prejudicial pre-trial publicity remains a concern."
Much of the most salacious material collected by the Jones legal team during its evidence-gathering phase already has been made public, but lawyers involved suggested there is more embarrassing material still under seal.
"There's stuff out there, that's all I'll say, stuff that probably both sides would rather not see the light of day," said Jones attorney David M. Pyke.
Among items affected would be the full transcript of Clinton's daylong Jan. 17 deposition, most of which has been released in redacted form. Wright, however, ruled that videotapes of that deposition and others will remain sealed.
Pyke complained that some of the sealed evidence that could become public would never be admitted at trial but would now become known by potential jurors, should Jones win an appeal. "It's something the jury wouldn't ever hear except through this process and that is particularly damaging to both sides," he said.
Pyke said no decision about an appeal had been made. Robert S. Bennett, Clinton's chief attorney in the Jones case, was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
The media organizations that filed the motion leading to yesterday's order were the New York Times, USA Today, Associated Press, Newsday, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Time, Little Rock Newspapers Inc., Pulitzer Publishing Co. and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Fox News and the Society of Professional Journalists later filed a similar motion.
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