By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"As a result, I think, the harassers have gotten more aggressive and the conduct more and more heinous. Like going on business trips where three men rape one woman," he says, referring to a recent sexual harassment case. "And even in those extreme cases, courts are straining to find some reason to throw the cases out. The spirit of Title VII [the primary legal basis for sexual harassment law] is dying."
Nevertheless, the firm did its research before signing onto the case. They got the Rutherford Institute to agree to pay out-of-pocket expenses, such as the costs of depositions, investigators, and jury consultants. They read available accounts of the evidence. They canvassed their office staff and wives about what they thought. Many were concerned not about the merits but about the fact that the firm would not be paid unless it recovered.
Finally, on September 26, Campbell, Fisher, and Holmes flew to Long Beach, where they spent the day interviewing Paula Jones and her husband, Stephen. "If it was just a grudge match where she wasn't interested in accomplishing anything that the legal system lets you accomplish, then we didn't want any part of it," explains Holmes. "A lot of people view this case as totally politically motivated, and a lot of people who support Paula support her because of the damage that can be done to Clinton through this case. And, well, if that was Paula's motivation, we weren't going to get in on it.
"Because what the legal system lets you do is simply have some vindication--either 'he's telling the truth' or 'she's telling the truth and he's lying'--and then it gives you money damages. And that's all she was going to accomplish in this case."
They didn't have long to decide, as her case was about to be dismissed. On September 11, Jones' then-lawyers, Joseph Cammarata and Gilbert Davis, had withdrawn. Between May 1994, when Cammarata and Davis filed Jones' suit, and the summer of 1997, when the Supreme Court finally ruled it could go forward, they'd racked up nearly $800,000 in attorney time--and discovery, the most expensive and intense portion of the suit, in which Jones' lawyer would learn the Clinton camp's evidence, had yet to begin. Davis and Cammarata had negotiated a settlement calling for a presidential apology and a $700,000 payment.
Clinton and Jones apparently backed out of the deal at about the same time. (According to sources familiar with the negotiations, the money would have gone entirely to her lawyers, leaving Jones with nothing for her trouble).
Jones' lawyers withdrew, leaving her in a bind. The president had requested documents from Jones; Jones didn't have some of the files she needed to comply. Desperate, Jones asked her friend McMillan for help. McMillan's husband, who is a lawyer, tried resurrecting settlement discussions. Smelling blood, Bennett started demanding the overdue documents from him, and asked the judge to dismiss Jones' case.
The Dallas firm formally entered the case on October 1. They quickly turned the tables, becoming more aggressive than even the combative Bennett. They sicced investigators on the long list of rumored Clinton paramours. They sent out lists of people they wanted to depose, including Betsey Wright, the longtime Clinton aide who had coined the term "bimbo eruption." They took the testimony of the infamous Arkansas troopers who had sung about soliciting women for then-Gov. Clinton to reporters several years back.
They also amended Jones' legal papers to emphasize aspects of the case they felt had been underplayed. They focused, for example, on allegations that what happened was not just harassment, but sexual assault. They did this, in part, to take advantage of a series of new federal evidence rules--rules enacted, ironically, by President Clinton--designed to change the traditional practice of putting a victim's sexual history on trial. The new rules turn the tables in sexual assault cases, encouraging judges to admit evidence of the defendant's sexual history while protecting victims.
Bennett, who had grown used to the laid-back lawyering of Jones' previous attorneys, seemed taken aback. Although the tiny Dallas firm was fighting a multi-front war--witnesses fought subpoenas in courts from Virginia to California--they were managing to keep up. Worse, they were pursuing matters such as Kathleen Willey's allegations that the president had groped her in the Oval Office--matters that were not only embarrassing, but had the potential to inflict real political havoc. In November, an intermediary for New York literary agent Luciane Goldberg contacted Jones' lawyers with information about a woman named Linda Tripp. And Tripp, of course, had the goods: tapes of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky claiming that she and the president had an affair.
The blows weren't all one-sided. Last summer Bennett scoured Arkansas for men claiming to have trysted with Jones and found some. When pressure from feminist groups made the president abandon this tactic, Bennett passed the dirt to Bill Bristow. Bristow represents the other defendant whom Jones has sued, Arkansas Trooper Danny Ferguson, who escorted Jones to the governor's room at Little Rock's Excelsior Hotel on May 8, 1991. Bristow has reportedly taken statements from several such men, and will be the one to do the dirty work of painting Jones as a slut at trial.