President Clinton's law license in Arkansas has been in serious jeopardy since last year, when U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright found him in contempt, fined him, and sent his Paula Jones case file down to the state's grievance committee. So Monday's recommendation from those judicial disciplinary folks -- that the president ought to be disbarred in the state -- isn't too much of a surprise.
Nor on the other hand should anyone take Monday's action as a fait accompli that the President indeed will be disbarred. Although state judges generally take these committee recommendations very seriously and usually accept whatever recommendations are made, it doesn't always happen that way.
There is still some room for the president's attorneys to convince the decision-makers in Arkansas that disbarment is too serious a punishment for Mr. Clinton's conceded actions.
They can point to the makeup of the committee itself, which was short on Democratic supporters. And you can be sure that Arkansas judges will be reminded that conduct more sinister than the president's has been punished less severely in the state in the past.
But it's going to be tough sledding for the White House and I'll bet that the president won't be allowed to hang up a shingle in Little Rock anytime soon. Judge Wright's scathing contempt order may prove to be simply too formidable for even the president's formidable defenders to overcome.
Wright, remember, flew up from Arkansas to Washington so she could sit in on the president's now infamous Saturday morning deposition in January 1998. She saw first-hand how he answered the questions posed to him and, later, she discovered just how evasive and downright misleading he had been while doing so. And when it came time for her to chime in on what she thought of the president's conduct during that deposition, she didn't pull any punches.
Among other things, Wright ruled that the president had indeed lied during the deposition. Mr. Clinton's adversaries in this disciplinary proceeding -- folks with the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation -- took those harsh findings by the judge and essentially turned them into gospel in their case against him. They presented the judge's words as though they were a complete legal and factual record, and in doing so, avoided the usual pitfalls which can occur in these disciplinary cases.
Usually, these cases start when a client or another lawyer complain about a lawyer's conduct during a deposition or otherwise. And, usually, the complaint turns into an investigation which turns into a he-said, she-said fight which usually proves inconclusive or at least not worthy of disbarment.
But Judge Wright's order avoided all that for the president's adversaries. Indeed, her words were tailor-made for what the committee has now recommended. In fact, I'd say that the President would not have received this unfavorable recommendation without the Judge's ruling.
Nw the recommendation goes to a trial court in Arkansas, which will issue a ruling, most likely accepting the committee's recommendation, which the president's legal team may challenge on appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Whatever their decision, it won't have much effect on any career the president chooses outside of Arkansas.
Despite Monday's recommendation, the fate of the president's law license in Arkansas hasn't yet been decided. But the recommendation means that it's a lot closer to being decided today than it was just a few days ago.
Written by Andrew Cohen
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