Judge: Jones' Case A Legal Strike Out
Even if Clinton behavior was 'boorish,' she says trial not warranted
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AllPolitics, April 1) -- In the American legal system, judges decide matters of law and juries decide matters of fact. And because Paula Jones' lawyers didn't prove the legal aspects of their case to a judge's satisfaction, they may never get to put the actual facts about what happened in a Little Rock hotel room in 1991 before a jury.
In dismissing Jones' sexual harassment case against President Bill Clinton Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled that evidence collected by Jones' attorneys simply didn't meet the legal standards necessary for a jury to find that she was sexually harassed, subjected to emotional outrage or suffered job discrimination -- the three issues she raised in her suit.
"While the court will certainly agree that plaintiffs' allegations describe offensive conduct, the court ... has found that the governor's alleged conduct does not constitute sexual assault," Wright said.
Jones was an Arkansas state employee when, she alleges, Clinton, then the state's governor, invited her to a Little Rock hotel room in 1991, exposed himself to her and propositioned her. She says she refused and left. Clinton has denied the allegations.
But in her ruling Wednesday, Wright said that even if the president's behavior was "boorish," that would not be enough to put Jones' case before a jury -- because she offered no evidence that Clinton touched her sexually or used "forcible compulsion."
The judge said Jones, who continued to work for the state for 19 months after the alleged incident, also failed to provide sufficient evidence that she faced a hostile work environment after refusing Clinton's advances, a necessary legal element of her claim.
Wright also said that even if Jones' allegations about Clinton are true, the incident "was brief and isolated; did not result in any physical harm ... did not result in distress so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it."
Jones' attorneys had tried to buttress her claims by showing what they said was a pattern of similar behavior by Clinton with other women, including Kathleen Willey and Monica Lewinsky. They also accused the president's forces of trying to suppress that evidence.
But Wright ruled that those claims, true or not, were irrelevant.
"Whether other women may have been subjected to workplace harassment, and whether such evidence has allegedly been suppressed, does not change the fact that the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that she has a case worthy of submitting to a jury," Wright wrote.
"Reduced to its essence, the record taken as a whole, could not lead a rational jury of fact to find for [Jones], and the court therefore finds that there are no genuine issues for trial in this case," she wrote.
What Wright did Wednesday was grant what is known as a motion for summary judgment. That is, in essence, a request by the president's attorneys to throw out the case prior to trial, which was scheduled to begin in May.
The Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal group that has been footing Jones' legal bills, issued a statement vowing to appeal Wright's decision "as long as necessary" to get Jones her day in court.
First stop would be the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over appeals coming out of federal courts in Arkansas and six other states. The chief judge of that circuit is Richard Arnold, who lives in Little Rock and is a friend of Clinton. The circuit's administrative offices are based in St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn.
Jones' lawyers will have 30 days to notify Wright that they will appeal her decision. If they do, it will then be assigned to a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit. In 1997, it took an average of nearly 10 months for an appeal to be heard in that court.
Whichever side loses could then either ask for the full 8th Circuit to review the case or appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In its statement, the Rutherford Institute vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, if necessary, to "seek redress for Mrs. Jones' grievances."
CNN Correspondent Brooks Jackson contributed to this report