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After the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct recommended on May 22 that President Clinton be disbarred for lying in a deposition in the Paula Jones case, many observed that Clinton could become the first sitting U.S. president in history to be disbarred. But disbarment is likely to take longer than Clinton’s remaining months in office. And if state precedent is followed, he may not lose his license at all. Professor John DiPippa, of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law School, compares Clinton’s case to those of Arkansas lawyers who have lied outside their capacity as attorneys and only been reprimanded for it. Examples include a 1997 case in which a Little Rock lawyer was suspended for offering false evidence in an application to a state liquor control board; another 1997 case in which a Little Rock lawyer was reprimanded for misleading actions related to a parent’s complaint about a private school that the lawyer ran; and a 1998 case in which a Bald Knob, Ark., lawyer was reprimanded for misrepresenting the condition of a property he sold. DiPippa also noted a Dec. 7, 1999, example of a Little Rock attorney who lied to a court three times in her official capacity as an attorney but was still given only a reprimand. Other ethics experts counter that American Bar Association and Arkansas standards allow for disbarment in Clinton’s case and that, as president, he should be held to a higher standard. “I’ve looked through the record going back 15 years and have not found a similar case,” says legal ethics expert Professor Howard W. Brill, of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Leflar Law Center. THE LONG ROAD TO DISBARMENT The sexual harassment lawsuit filed six years ago by former Arkansas state employee Paula Corbin Jones was the genesis of Clinton’s disbarment problems. Answering a question during a 1998 deposition in that case, Clinton said he had never had “sexual relations” with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. That statement, which he later admitted was misleading, prompted U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright, who oversaw the Jones case, to cite Clinton with civil contempt. In April 1999, she referred the contempt citation to Arkansas’ professional conduct committee. In 1998, it had received a more expansive complaint from the conservative, Atlanta-based Southeastern Legal Foundation. Review of the two complaints caused a majority of the committee’s six members to conclude that Clinton’s “serious misconduct” constituted grounds for disbarment under two state rules of professional responsibility. It will probably be at least a month before the clerk of the Pulaski County circuit court in Little Rock receives the committee’s formal petition, observers say. University of Arkansas law professor Judith Kilpatrick says that one of five available civil judges — all Democrats — will then be selected at random to hear the case, a process that could be complicated by recusal problems. Many members of the Arkansas legal establishment, including the seven-member state supreme court, have connections to Clinton. Eight members of the 14-member professional conduct committee recused themselves because of connections to Clinton or the Democratic party. The six members left were the minimum for a quorum. The committee’s next task will be to appoint an “investigative prosecutor” to handle the case in a nonjury trial. The substance and length of the trial will depend on the composition of the committee’s petition. If the committee bases its complaint on the narrow grounds of Wright’s contempt citation, says Brill, a trial could proceed fairly quickly. If the allegations stem from the complaint of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which alleges a number of false statements by Clinton to lawyers, judges, grand jurors, cabinet officials and the public, the proceeding could be significantly extended, he explains. A trial would proceed on the two alleged violations of the Arkansas Model Rules of Professional Conduct listed in the committee’s order: � Under Rule 8.4(c), it is misconduct for a lawyer to engage in behavior involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. � Under Rule 8.4(d), it is misconduct for a lawyer to engage in behavior prejudicial to the administration of justice. A nationally known legal ethics expert, Stephen Gillers, of the New York University School of Law, says that the broadness of Rule 8.4(c) makes Clinton especially vulnerable. Under Rule 8.4, adds Brill, the contempt citation by Wright makes it nearly impossible for Clinton’s lawyer, Williams & Connolly partner David Kendall, to defend his client. Having failed to challenge the citation at the district court level, “I doubt he’ll be able to challenge it now,” he says. At best, Kendall will be limited to arguing that disbarment is too severe. Even this approach may be offset by precedent that Brill contends places a greater burden on accused lawyers who hold public office. Kilpatrick predicts that even the quickest-moving disbarment case won’t result in a circuit court decision until the end of the summer. Once the judge does rule, he or she can impose disbarment, suspension, a stayed suspension, a public reprimand or a private reprimand, she says. Much like a suspended sentence, a “stayed suspension” allows judges some leeway in penalizing misbehaving lawyers without doing their livelihood irreparable damage. A public reprimand would be published in the state bar journal. A private reprimand would be in a letter to the committee’s file. Both sides would have 30 days to appeal the circuit judge’s decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, where the case, barring any recusals that could cause delay, would not likely be heard until next year. Clinton would retain his law license as long as his case remained on appeal. A ruling from the state supreme court would likely follow oral arguments by three weeks, says Brill, and at its earliest, a decision would still come after the president has left office, all three Arkansas professors say. “If the president’s fight has been reduced to avoiding disbarment while president,” concludes Gillers, “then I’m sure Williams & Connolly can make that happen.”

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