NINETY THOUSAND dollars may not sound like a large sum to account for the damage that President Clinton's lies under oath did to our political system. But the sanction imposed on the president by Judge Susan Webber Wright makes a strong statement about the integrity of federal court proceedings. It is a statement made all the stronger by the fact that, unlike so many of the president's foes, Judge Wright always has done the minimum necessary to address the misconduct he perpetrated in her courtroom. Her fairness to him made it an unusually powerful rebuke when she found him in contempt of court this spring, and it makes her fixing of the price of that contempt on Thursday similarly resonant.
The actual sum -- which is supposed to compensate the Jones camp for expenses incurred as a result of his false statements in deposition -- is far less than Paula Jones's lawyers requested. Judge Wright's figure, in fact, is closer to that recommended by the president's lawyers than it is to the nearly $500,000 the Jones camp sought. The bulk of her opinion is devoted to explaining why their fee requests are excessive and involve legal expenses that can't reasonably be said to result from Mr. Clinton's false statements under oath.
All of which makes the figure on which she settled a very credible accounting of the damage Mr. Clinton did to justice in her courtroom. And while it does not begin to assess the larger damage he did by dragging the country through a months-long investigation and impeachment, that is not a figure that it is her place to estimate. Indeed, the larger damage is impossible to calculate in dollars. The purpose of this sanction is to reimburse the price of his perjury for that small part of the justice system for which Judge Wright is responsible: the case over which she presided. As such, it is a fitting close to the Paula Jones suit.