Clinton attorneys argue to keep Jones case under wraps

Thursday, February 19, 1998

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)—President Clinton’s lawyers urged a judge Wednesday to reject a media request for the release of secret documents in Paula Jones’ sexual-harassment lawsuit against Clinton.

Attorneys for Clinton argued that the public has no legal right to information regarding the questioning of potential witnesses and other pre-trial matters.

Furthermore, lifting the secrecy order could impair the president’s ability to carry out his duties, damage chances for a fair trial and provide fodder that partisan groups could misuse, said Clinton’s attorney Robert Bennett.

A dozen media groups, including The Associated Press, requested Feb. 4 that U.S. district court Judge Susan Webber Wright unseal documents and lift a gag order she imposed last October in Jones’ case.

Jones’ lawyers have until today to file their response to the media’s request to lift the gag order. They did not immediately return phone messages Wednesday.

The media lawyers claimed the gag order restricts free speech without good reason, is too broad and does nothing to ensure a fair trial. To the contrary, they argued, the veil of secrecy promotes information leaks, rumors and innuendo.

Clinton’s lawyers criticized the media’s reasoning and said it ran contrary to previous court opinions.

“In a baffling twist of logic, the media entities conclude that the court should reward these abuses of the (gag) order by abandoning the notion of a fair trial and surrender control of this case to the media by unsealing discovery and deluging the public with every piece of information,” Bennett wrote.

“The press coverage would be so widespread, it could be very difficult to empanel a jury that did not have some preconceived view of the case,” he added.

The trial is to begin May 27.

Jones claims that Clinton propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel room in 1991, when she was a state employee and he was Arkansas governor. She says she rebuffed his advances and suffered on the job for that. Clinton denies the allegations.

In addition to the AP, other media joining in the request to lift the secrecy order includes Pulitzer Publishing Co., publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; The New York Times; USA TODAY; Newsday; NBC; CBS; ABC; CNN; Time; Little Rock Newspapers, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.