Originally created 05/08/00

President argues against disbarment



ATLANTA -- President Clinton is vigorously fighting an effort to strip him of his license to practice law, asserting many of the same arguments used in his successful impeachment defense.

Though his legal response to the complaint is confidential at Mr. Clinton's request, those who were entitled to read it describe it as a rehash of the reasoning that convinced the Senate to keep him in office. It stresses his 20 years of public service and discusses the legal definition of perjury.

A copy of the rebuttal to his response will be released today by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which filed the original complaint with the Arkansas Supreme Court's committee on professional conduct. By addressing Mr. Clinton's argument point by point, the rebuttal is expected to give the public its best idea of Mr. Clinton's defense.

"I will characterize it as a pathetic attempt to defend the indefensible. He introduced no new evidence," said Matthew Glavin, the foundation's president.

In September 1998, a Georgia State University law professor -- Lynn Hogue, who serves as the foundation's legal counsel and is a member of the Arkansas bar -- filed a complaint asking that Mr. Clinton be disbarred for lying under oath in his Paula Jones deposition. In April of the following year, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright issued a civil contempt citation against Mr. Clinton, who paid a $90,000 fine for lying. She also formally requested his disbarment.

Still, for 15 months the committee didn't ask Mr. Clinton to respond until ordered to do so by the state's Supreme Court after a unanimous ruling on a motion by the foundation. Mr. Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, sought to delay the proceedings until the next president is sworn in, but the committee rejected that request. Mr. Kendall filed an 85-page confidential answer April 21, but it's substance hasn't been divulged until today.

Mr. Kendall did not return a call asking for a comment.

"He acknowledged in his brief that he mislead the public, his wife, his friends, his associates and the court," Mr. Glavin said. "And while it may not be true that he committed perjury as defined by the law, that is meaningless."

The rules of the Arkansas bar and the American Bar Association say misrepresentation, even when not under oath, are grounds for disbarment, Mr. Glavin said.

On Friday, the Southeastern Legal Foundation filed its 30-page rebuttal. With written arguments from both sides in hand, the committee is set to vote May 19 on whether to sue in circuit court to strip Mr. Clinton of his professional license, suspend him, reprimand him or do nothing.

The president will leave office with many years left in his career, but most observers doubt he has any plans to practice law in his home state. Still, becoming the first sitting president to be disbarred would be embarrassing.

"President Clinton's done everything possible to embarrass himself," said former U.S. Sen. Mack Mattingly, R-Ga., who is chairman of the foundation. "It didn't take any effort on our part. ... We gave the shove in the proper direction, but in that particular issue, it's more about integrity, which Bill Clinton doesn't have, but integrity within that particular profession."

Others see a political motive.

"It is political," said the Rev. Fred Douglass Taylor, a director with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "What is the point? I don't think the president of the United States has any interest at all in practicing law. They want to blemish his legacy any way they can."

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.