The Jones Boys

How a troupe of button-down Dallas lawyers breathed life into Jones vs. Clinton and found themselves the nation's most unlikely feminist heroes

Then the real fun will begin.
Investigators will comb the public record for information--voting records, lawsuits, driving records, real estate values, house appearances, even credit checks. They will interview neighbors and colleagues at work. They will find out all they can about spouses, children, even pets. They will compile the information, slice it, dice it, and assign each juror a preliminary desirability rating. With this information, they will march into the courtroom of federal Judge Susan Webber Wright sometime in May, which is when she is indicating jury selection will begin.

In an unusual and constitutionally dubious move, Wright will close individual juror questioning to the prying eyes of the public.

Jury consultants in New York, California, and Arkansas are already conducting mock trials, using faux jurors scientifically selected to match jury pool demographics. Depending upon what they learn, both sides will adjust their strategies for presenting evidence and picking jurors.

Recent research into how juries decide sexual harassment cases has turned up many factors that seem to correlate with how a juror will vote: whether he or she has been a victim of sexual harassment (between 40 and 90 percent of all women have), church attendance, attitudes toward women, self-esteem, acceptance of "rape myths" (e.g., that women can bring rape on themselves), age, and the extent to which they view male-female relationships as inherently adversarial.

Jones' lawyers are aware of this research, but downplay the importance of all factors but one. "The key is getting jurors who will honestly put aside the fact that Bill Clinton is president of the United States, and if the evidence shows that he did it, find that he did it," Holmes says.

"And that's the game. If we can get jurors to do that, then we're going to win. And if we can't get jurors to do that, then we're gonna lose. And everything--race, gender, prior sexual history--everything else goes to zero, compared to that."

If the jury believes that it happened, there will be little question that it was harassment; numerous studies have shown that virtually all subjects perceive explicit propositions and physical sexual advances made by a superior to an employee to be sexual harassment. But the courts, swamped by such claims and sympathetic to employer arguments that they should not have to police truly consensual social interactions, have required plaintiffs to show the harassment was "unwelcome."

And this will be the bloodiest battleground in Jones vs. Clinton.
Ironically, many of the feminist scholars now proclaiming that Jones has no case have decried this inquiry, pointing out that it puts the victim on trial, as in rape cases. Yet a requirement it remains. Thus in many or even most cases, victims have to explain away why they appeared flattered, joked, or even, as in Jones' case, may later have offered to be a girlfriend. It's a nasty tactic--and, as many studies show, it works.

Jones has other problems too, thanks to hoary old stereotypes that scientists say most folks still carry around in their noodles. Unfortunately, before her much-publicized makeover, Paula Jones was a poster child for the female type some researchers have labeled the "sexual woman." "This type is defined by the terms 'tart,' 'sex bomb,' and 'vamp,'" writes one social scientist. The type seems to be defined almost by contrasting her characteristics with those of the "career woman" type: "In [one study], people described the sexual woman as someone who is 'flirtatious, seductive, and...socializes,'" characteristics that are "non-overlapping with those used to depict a career woman (the latter described by terms including intelligent, determined, knowledgeable, and goal oriented.)"

Put otherwise, Jones "had that come-hither look."
Indeed, sexual attractiveness--even maintenance of a "come hither" look--is a traditional female strategy for attracting attention. And getting noticed by Clinton, for any reason, was a potential route for advancement, something that Paula Jones was not the first woman to figure out. Indeed, in certain corners of society that still discourage ambition and professional aspirations in women--corners of society a lot like Lonake, Arkansas, Paula Jones' hometown--it is a far more acceptable strategy than, say, single-minded pursuit of a Harvard MBA.

And so the question arises: If a woman suspects a man's interest in her is sexual, but thinks she can finesse or even flirt her way through the situation, does that mean she assumes the risk of him dropping trou and asking her to "kiss it"?

Jones' lawyers will try to turn the tables, reflecting all the old stereotypes back on President Clinton. Instead of showing that Jones is the type of woman who would welcome sexual harassment, they will try to show that he is the kind of man who would attempt it.

Many of these calculations, of course, masquerade under the veneer of credibility. Yet, here again, Jones' lawyers have a tough row to hoe, simply because of who she is and whom she is suing.

"I think she is at a real disadvantage," says Dr. Robert Gordon, a lawyer, psychologist, and jury consultant who directs the Wilmington Institute in Dallas. "I think also she hasn't projected herself very well."

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