As Lawyers Fight for Pay, Jones Is Set to Request $2 Million to Settle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 1998; Page A
Paula Jones is poised to make a $2 million proposal to settle her sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton, with half of the money to come from the president and the other half from a New York tycoon who has inserted himself into the talks, sources close to the case said yesterday.
With time running out before a Tuesday courtroom showdown, the Jones camp wants to make the proposal this weekend if it can resolve its own bitter internal divisions about how to divide the money among Jones and various lawyers, the sources said. A late-afternoon truce reported among the Jones factions unraveled by evening, leaving the situation murky.
Encouraged by her husband and some advisers, Jones appears to have decided to take a hard-line bargaining stance with Clinton. In addition to accepting the $1 million offered of his own accord by real estate developer Abe Hirschfeld, she wants to push the president to give her the full $1 million she demanded from him when this latest round of negotiations began several weeks ago.
Clinton initially countered with a $500,000 offer and then, before Hirschfeld got involved, boosted it to $700,000 - the last proposal on the table. Some of his advisers have suggested that he might be willing to go a little higher, although they stressed that he fervently despises the Jones team and may balk at any figure he believes would look too much like an admission that he crudely propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel suite in 1991, as she alleges.
Jones has dropped her long-standing insistence that Clinton apologize as part of any settlement, but sources familiar with her thinking said that regardless of how much money she might get from Hirschfeld, she and her husband, Stephen, want the president to pay enough so that it could be interpreted as an acknowledgment that she was truthful.
Both sides have strong motives for wanting to resolve this in the next three days. On Tuesday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in St. Paul, Minn., about whether it should reinstate the Jones suit, which was dismissed by a lower court in April. Once the judges hear the case, they could issue a decision at any point.
Jones's lawyers have argued that Clinton's false denial of a sexual relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky when questioned in the case warrants overturning the dismissal, but even if Jones wins at the appeals court, she faces a long and arduous road to trial. Moreover, both she and her husband are out of work and could use the money.
The president's team has argued that the Lewinsky matter is irrelevant to the reasons why the Jones case was dismissed, but worries that the lawsuit could be restored and lead to months of further political trouble. In addition, advisers believe that any possibility of striking a deal with Congress to avoid impeachment might hinge on the president admitting that he lied under oath, which he would not want to do while the Jones case remained a threat.
Before any settlement can be reached, though, a deal must be struck among Jones's feuding advisers. Her current Dallas-based lawyers, working for a 40 percent contingency arrangement, have rung up $1.5 million in unpaid bills. The Rutherford Institute, a conservative foundation backing her suit, paid $400,000 in litigation expenses. And her previous legal team, Joseph Cammarata and Gilbert K. Davis, have filed an $800,000 lien against any proceeds she receives.
As a result, Jones has brought in yet another lawyer to help her deal with all the other lawyers. "My involvement is to make sure that Paula is properly compensated," said Bill McMillan, husband of Jones's friend and adviser Susan Carpenter-McMillan. "There's a queue of lawyers out there standing in line. If you look at that, there's not a lot left for Paula. In fact, there's nothing left."
Aggressively pressing their claim, Cammarata and Davis too have hired a lawyer. In an odd twist, they picked Daniel Gecker, a Richmond attorney who represents Kathleen E. Willey, the former White House volunteer who accused the president of accosting her in the Oval Office in 1993. Cammarata and Davis went up against Gecker last year when Willey unsuccessfully tried to avoid testifying in the Jones case.
Cammarata wrote Hirschfeld this week to notify him of the lien, leading the New York millionaire to threaten to withdrawn his offer. But as yesterday's noon deadline passed, he said he would keep it on the table - he invited reporters to watch him deposit a $1 million check in a bank - because he believed there was progress.
"I don't care how they split it and what they do," Hirschfeld said in a telephone interview. "I only care that they conclude this."
For a brief period yesterday, it seemed that the Jones lawyers had a deal. According to sources, McMillan had an understanding with the Rutherford Institute and with Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke, the Texas-based firm representing Jones, about who would be paid how much.
With time short, according to sources, the plan was to postpone a resolution of how much Cammarata and Davis would be paid until after a settlement was reached with Clinton. But the sources said Cammarata and Davis rejected the idea of putting some money in escrow pending negotiations with them, arguing that they should not be the only ones whose payment was in escrow. If the entire settlement were put in escrow, that might be acceptable, they signaled.
The snag prevented the Jones team from presenting its latest proposal to the Clinton side. Instead, a source said, the Jones lawyers last evening made a two-minute courtesy call to Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett to say that a deal was still possible and was being worked on.
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