By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
They take themselves seriously at Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke, the six-man Dallas law firm that has taken on Paula Jones' suit against the president.
You can see it in the stern, extremely formal group portraits that have run in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Dallas Morning News. You can see it especially in the scowling, combative countenance of Donovan Campbell Jr., the 47-year-old St. Mark's-Princeton-UT Law alumnus who has been the primary chess-master behind the Jones suit. And you can see it in the way they have litigated against the president's counsel, the 1,100-lawyer New York-based powerhouse of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Since last October, when they took over as Paula Jones' lawyers, the tiny Dallas firm has more than matched blows with the president's lawyers. In fact, based on the more than 1,200 pages of witness statements and discovery responses now in the public record, it appears that they have inflicted more harm on the president than the president has inflicted on Paula Jones. And the harm is not limited to the lawsuit between Jones and Clinton. As a direct result of witnesses unearthed and sworn testimony taken in the Jones case--Monica Lewinsky being but one such witness--Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's moribund investigation of the president has taken on new life.
And so has Jones' suit. "I think she's taken much more seriously now," says Wes Holmes, relaxing for a moment in the library of his firm's 6,500-square-foot space in an office tower off Stemmons Freeway. "And, I don't mean to overplay this point, but if somebody good hadn't taken her case when we took her case, it was about one week from dying.
"Her ox was in the ditch...and so we resuscitated it and moved it on down the line."
He isn't exaggerating. Since December 1993, when The American Spectator first suggested that something sexual might have happened in an Arkansas hotel room between a woman named Paula and William Jefferson Clinton, her case has taken more turns than an Ozark Mountain back road. She has had three different sets of lawyers. Her case was nearly settled twice, with payment and a presidential apology. It has stalled in an Arkansas federal court and gone to the Supreme Court and back over the issue of whether a sitting president can even be sued. In the process, she has been ridiculed, lionized, demonized, believed, disbelieved, and talked about more than most Hollywood celebrities.
The one thing she has not yet been is to trial.
That will likely change on May 27, when U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright has indicated that this case will be tried. Although there is a chance that Wright will throw part of Jones' case out on legal grounds between now and then, attorneys for both sides believe that most or all of it will survive to be decided by 12 Arkansas jurors.
For a variety of reasons--the complexity of court files, the success of the White House spin machine, and the implausibility of what, as partner Jim Fisher puts it, "this crummy little firm from Dallas" has accomplished--news accounts of Jones' lawyers have focused less on their achievements than on portraying them as political enemies of the president. They've been dismissed as right-wing lackeys, Hillary-haters and neo-Neanderthals secretly pining for the bad old days when men were men and women were in the steno pool.
Six weeks of research--including two trips to Arkansas, dozens of interviews with former colleagues and opponents, and my own observations of the firm's lawyers--have convinced me that this characterization is grossly unfair. I have reached a radical conclusion: These aren't political enemies out to destroy the president, but young lawyers out to make their mark by winning Paula Jones' case. Against overwhelming odds, including Skadden Arps, an army of presidential spinmeisters, and a feminist leadership that has picked the wrong side, the Rader, Campbell firm has breathed new life into Jones' case.
So far, so good. But their biggest challenge of all will come early next month, when the judge will begin the all-important process of picking the jury.
"It's a little bit grandiose," admits 36-year-old partner David Pyke. "But I think all attorneys have the desire and the ego to do something a little bit grandiose."
Dressed in a blue-striped dress shirt with elegant French cuffs and gold cufflinks, his navy patterned tie loosened a tug or two, Pyke's attire contrasts nicely with the nubby orange chair in his firm's tiny library. The decor is small-firm utilitarian: nature prints, horsey scenes, rent-to-buy furniture. Like many big-firm refugees before them, Bob Rader, Don Campbell, and Jim Fisher were taking a huge gamble when, in the spring of 1992, they walked away from their partnerships at the Dallas firm of Locke, Purnell in order to form their own firm.
Anxious to keep the overhead and their billing rates low, they settled in a Class C office building off Stemmons Freeway near Parkland Hospital. Pyke, then a senior litigation associate at Locke, Purnell, joined them six months later.
"I liked their idea--bill clients less, work less, and make more money," Pyke recalls.