Black like him

Despite the Starr report's dirty details, Paula Jones' case against the nation's "first black president" hinges as much on race as on sex

This time around, there is no ambiguity between Jones and her lawyers. The Rader, Campbell firm knows they are on a 40 percent contingency fee. Though Jones' husband is unemployed, she will likely not settle for the current $700,000 offer, which after deduction of costs and attorneys fees would net her less than $200,000. Though she would probably receive far less than $700,000 if she prevailed at trial, financially she could be better off, since anything she won would be her own. By law, in cases likes Jones', fees are awarded separately to lawyers representing winning plaintiffs. Thus Jones' current attorneys know they could come out better at trial than in any settlement. It's conceivable that Jones could be awarded nominal damages, while her lawyers win millions.

Assuming, of course, they prevail.
"I hope they do it [go to trial]," says Leah Farrish, a Tulsa lawyer who represents the Dulles NOW chapter and who has filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Jones' behalf. "Because, you know, it's a historic case." Strange though this coalition may seem, Jones and crew are the only ones the NOW chapter sees looking out for sexual harassment laws at the moment.

"We are very concerned that, for the moment, the only people who are defending the sexual harassment laws are the conservatives, who are the people who didn't want the laws to start with," says Marie-Jose Ragab, president of the Dulles NOW chapter. "And it is true, that for the moment, it fits within their political agenda.

"But there is another aspect," Ragab says. "Deep down they have understood that it has to do with the dignity of women, the dignity of their daughters. And so I think that the reaction that they may have had 10 years ago, which was of a sexist nature, now it has reached a point where they recognize that those rules are good. So there is a great deal of sincerity on their part."

Some black activists are questioning the topsy-turvy politics of it all. "I don't know what it is," marvels M.T. A'Vant. "What's wrong with the feminist movement? All of those women...they support the president! It's almost shocking. I mean, you would think they'd be telling Hillary she needs to get a divorce. He's got a pattern of this. If it's one time, I understand. But this man's been doing this forever. What kind of example does it set for women, for young girls, for his daughter?"

It's a fair question. After all, why should black civil rights leaders be expected to step in to criticize a friendly president in an area--sexual harassment--that supposedly is the proper domain of feminists? Then again, why not?

"With Clinton, [black] people feel like ever since he stepped foot in office, on every turn he's been fought," says Cheryl Smith. "He's tried to speak out, and do some things [for black people] that were noticeably absent with other presidents. I feel like that has a lot to do with what he's going through.

"So if it comes to [impeachment], I think black people will be very upset. I think it might be the thing that gets black people to the polls."

They may not have to. If the Jones case doesn't settle, it may well be sent back down to Arkansas for trial. The voting-age population of the 11 counties that constitute the Eastern District of Arkansas is 15 percent black. While they aren't exactly South Central Los Angeles numbers, they could nevertheless be a significant factor. Since, as a practical matter, jury service is the only real political power many citizens ever exercise, 12 jurors in Arkansas could send a very loud message to Congress about just how it should view Clinton's failings.

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