A federal judge yesterday ordered President Clinton to pay nearly $90,000 to Paula Jones's legal team for giving false testimony about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, marking the first time that a sitting president has been punished for contempt of court.
In a 19-page order, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright of Arkansas said "sanctions must be imposed to redress the President's misconduct and to deter others who might consider emulating the President's misconduct." The payment -- to compensate Jones's lawyers for the extra time and expense they incurred because of Clinton's false statements -- is far less than the sum sought by the Jones lawyers but almost triple what Clinton had suggested.
Wright also ordered the president to pay the federal court in Little Rock $1,202 as reimbursement for the expenses she incurred in January 1998 when -- at Clinton's request -- she traveled to Washington to preside over his deposition in Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit.
Wright said she "takes no pleasure in imposing contempt sanctions against this Nation's President, and no doubt like many others grows weary of this matter."
However, she said, "the Court has determined that the President deliberately violated this Court's discovery Orders, thereby undermining the integrity of the judicial system."
In a statement, Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett said, "We accept the order of the court and will comply with it."
Whether the president will pay the sanctions out of his personal money or from funds raised from contributors to cover his legal expenses remains to be determined, a White House official said yesterday.
During the deposition questioning, Clinton said that he did not recall being alone with Lewinsky and that he did not have a sexual relationship with the former White House intern. That testimony formed the basis of a civil contempt order, issued by Wright last April, finding that Clinton gave "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process" in Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit.
Wright concluded that Clinton's testimony violated her order that Jones was entitled to information regarding any sexual relations Clinton might have had with any government employee. She said she would require Clinton to pay "reasonable expenses" incurred by the Jones lawyers as a result of his misconduct, and in the intervening months attorneys on both sides of the case have sparred over what would constitute an appropriate amount.
Clinton has said that although he did not accept Wright's assessment of the truthfulness of his deposition testimony, he would not appeal her contempt order.
In court papers filed yesterday, Wright ordered Clinton to pay $79,999.12 to the Dallas law firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher and Pyke, which represented Jones in the final stages of her suit against the president. The firm, which initially sought $437,825 from Clinton, said in a statement yesterday, "the order falls far short of awarding the proper amount of attorney's fees and expenses," and suggested that it might appeal Wright's finding.
The judge also ordered Clinton to pay $9,484.93 to the Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties advocacy organization based in Charlottesville that raised funds to bring the Jones lawsuit. The institute originally sought $58,533.03, and John W. Whitehead, president, said he was considering whether to appeal the order. "Philosophically the opinion is good, but the fee issue is important," Whitehead said.
Clinton's attorneys had argued that the Jones lawyers were "demonstrably overreaching" in their original requests and suggested payments of no more than $33,700.
Wright rejected suggestions by the Jones attorneys that Clinton should be required to make payments that served as punishment for his misconduct. Instead, she said, the law only required compensation for otherwise unnecessary legal work caused by his false statements. Because the deposition came close to the end of the case, Wright found that only a fraction of the attorneys' work and expenses could be attributed to Clinton's misconduct.
Jones claimed in the original lawsuit that Clinton had made unwanted sexual advances toward her in 1991, when she was a state employee and he was governor of Arkansas. Clinton settled the lawsuit for $850,000 in November, just as Congress began impeachment proceedings against him.
The articles of impeachment voted by the House of Representatives in December accused Clinton of obstruction of justice in the Jones case and perjury in the criminal investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that grew out of the Jones case. In February, the Senate acquitted Clinton on both articles.