The Jones Boys
There were a couple of reasons why Hoover vs. Cain wasn't your typical probate-court lawsuit. First was the case itself. Oh, sure, from the way 33-year-old Dallas lawyer Wes Holmes described the dispute to a panel of prospective jurors, it sounded ordinary: 28-year-old Melissa Rene McReynolds and her sister, 36-year-old Rynda Sue Hoover, were suing their father, Mel McReynolds, and two of his friends, Gerald Cain and Donald Baker, for draining money from their trusts. Yet at its heart, this case appeared to be less about the usual litigation fuel, money, than about anger--the rage of two daughters spurned by their father. After all, the amounts Mel McReynolds was alleged to have pilfered from his daughters' trusts were small: $4,800 here, $2,500 there. There was the suggestion that Dad and his daughters might not have seen each other in some time and fleeting mention of a long-ago divorce. And most of all there was the unusually uptight bearing and stiff half-smiles of Holmes' clients--body language that appeared to mask a Krakatoan fury.
The second oddity of Hoover vs. Cain was the reporter sitting in the courtroom--an event so rare in Dallas County's probate courts that everyone from the bailiff to the defense attorney stopped to ask what was newsworthy about this case.
The answer was nothing; it was the plaintiff's lawyers who were the attraction. The earnest young men representing McReynolds and Hoover were also representing another angry woman: Paula Corbin Jones.
Holmes and his partner, 30-year-old McCord Wilson, took the presence of the press in stride. Clad in neo-Reagan era attire--navy blue Brooks Brothers suit, white button-down shirt, striped tie--the clean-cut, prematurely balding young Holmes faced the panel. "Is there anyone here who thinks that children should never sue their parents?" he asked. Beside him, helping to scan the faces of the 24-person jury pool, was Wilson, who in glasses resembles Clark Kent. Contrary to what one might expect from news accounts from Jones' sexual harassment case against President Clinton, they didn't seem like right-wing nut jobs: They didn't rant, didn't rave, and didn't foam at the mouth. Instead, they were quiet, rational, straightforward and, above all, extremely polite.
They did take the moral high road, eschewing theatrics and melodrama in favor of a vaguely Joe Friday, just-the-facts-ma'am style. They didn't mention that Mel McReynolds had divorced Mom and married his bookkeeper, didn't dwell on the fact that Dad hadn't called his daughters in 14 years. Instead, they toed the line of propriety: How many jurors believed in tort reform? How many had served on juries before, and how did they vote? Had anyone heard of Holmes' firm, Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke, which had been in the paper a lot lately, thanks to the fact that they represented Jones? No one would hold that against Holmes' clients, would they?
The thought that these nice young men might be tormenting President Clinton provoked a collective shrug.
By contrast, Mike Handy, Mel McReynolds' lawyer, was all touchy-feely empathy and solicitousness, wanting to know how the jury felt, what they thought, what kind of bumper stickers they had on their cars. Handy's courtroom demeanor was rather at odds with his scorched-earth behind-the-scenes defense; in depositions, the lawyer had bludgeoned McReynolds' daughters about drug use, their sex lives, even about a long-ago abortion. But the judge had ruled this material out of bounds, and so Handy was left to face the jury with naught but baleful expression, as if meditating on how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have thankless children. This pained countenance vanished whenever the jury left the courtroom.
Sincerity went to Holmes and Wilson.
Ditto for skill. Though a full decade younger than their opponent, the plaintiffs' lawyers had the edge in handling evidence and witnesses. Even more important, they showed superior judgment. When Mel McReynolds broke down on the stand, giving a long, rambling, self-serving account of how he had tried to be a good father, they didn't cut him off. For the most part, they didn't needlessly object. They didn't get rattled, didn't let their tempers show.
They made their mistakes too. "My take was that Wes and [McCord] calculated damages wrong," says Tom Bravenec, the daughters' stepfather. "And they have a lot to learn yet, in handling juries from an emotional point of view. But I think both of them are extremely talented young lawyers. And what they're lacking in worldly experience with juries, they make up for in ethics and morals and plain smarts."
All in all, a solid performance--especially for trial lawyers so tender in age. Ten days after the case began, the jury of three men and three women returned with a verdict for the plaintiffs on all counts. The $120,000 verdict included $60,000 for the firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke.
It wasn't the million-dollar fee they hope a jury will award in Jones vs. Clinton. And Handy wasn't Bob Bennett, the pugnacious, Brooklyn-born street fighter who will be representing President Clinton when that case goes to trial in Little Rock next month, as it almost surely will.
But then Holmes and Wilson, the two youngest partners in the Rader, Campbell firm, didn't appear to be exactly the right-wing ideologues that the White House's mighty spin machine has made them out to be either. What they did seem to be were two young, pretty talented trial attorneys with the chutzpah to dream big dreams--big enough to make them tug on the cape of the leader of the free world.
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.
Reports of the firm's genesis have tended to make them sound like pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, chiefly because they have focused on Donovan Campbell. The son of an Air Force doctor, Campbell's activism on behalf of conservative Christian issues was clearly a cause for discomfort at Locke, Purnell. Stories about Campbell still make the rounds at his former firms, including one about how Campbell picketed the gay-themed play Torch Song Trilogy. "There was pretty much just a feeling of 'well, guess what he's done now,'" says one longtime Locke, Purnell partner who asked not to be named.
In fact, though, the impetus for the split was chiefly financial. While, as Campbell's partners acknowledge, "he's one of those guys people either love or hate," he was widely acknowledged to be a talented tax lawyer. And Jim Fisher and Bob Rader, meanwhile, were among the most popular young partners at the firm.
Rader, a Southern Methodist University law graduate with a warm smile and a shock of white hair, was a specialist in federal safety regulations. Fisher was a military brat who went to school and then practiced in Colorado before making his way to Dallas in the mid-'80s. A soft-spoken but intense oil and gas litigator, Fisher had a secret passion for plaintiffs' civil rights work. (Fisher will be the lead trial lawyer when Paula Jones' case goes to trial. Pyke and Holmes will be his primary assistants, although Campbell will likely play some role.)
All four partners had children at home and liked the notion of working less, making more money, and spending more time with their families. They quickly established a base of business litigation. Even Campbell turned trial lawyer; since leaving Locke, Purnell, most of his business has been probate and trust litigation.
Wes Holmes, born and raised in Little Rock, came on in 1993. Holmes, whose father was a homebuilder and mother a real estate agent, had clerked at the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that recruits lawyers to take on causes dear to the religious right, one summer during law school. While there, he'd met Donovan Campbell, who since 1982 has taken on many cases for the institute. (Campbell now sits on Rutherford's board of directors.) Through common friends, Holmes contacted Campbell, and the match was quickly made.
Like Campbell, both Fisher and Holmes have handled Rutherford suits. Campbell has told reporters that he considers one of these suits--his defense of Texas' homosexual sodomy laws--to be his finest moment as a lawyer. Campbell has also sued abortion providers for defrauding women by failing to advise them of abortion alternatives.
But Fisher and Holmes insist this does not make them right-wing enemies of the president. While they are Christians and have taken religious liberty cases, they insist this does not translate automatically into Clinton-hatred.
"It would have helped if even one of us was a Clinton-hating fanatic," Pyke says with a laugh. "Then we would have known who all these people were and have heard all the rumors before we were shot from the cannon last October."
"I don't think people understand how apolitical we are," he continues. Pyke has not handled Rutherford Institute suits, preferring to take his pro bono work from the Dallas Bar Association. "In fact, politics didn't enter our discussions when we were debating whether to take the case."
Indeed, their colleagues back at Locke, Purnell, are reluctant to brand them as right-wingers. "Except for Campbell, I've never really thought of them as right-wing guys," says James Robertson III, who worked closely with Pyke, Rader, and Fisher at Locke, Purnell in the late '80s and early '90s. "I don't think they're liberals. But except for Campbell, I can't see any of them out carrying placards."
Nevertheless, it was through their Rutherford connections that the case came to the firm last September, when Donovan Campbell got a call from his friend John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute.
"It was right before lunch one day in September," recalls Holmes. "Don [Campbell] walks into my office and shuts the door with this big grin on his face, and says, 'Well, you're never gonna believe what I just talked to Whitehead about.' And he told me that, you know, Susan McMillan had called him, and that he was going to recommend us.'"
McMillan is a controversial conservative pundit who befriended Jones after she moved to Long Beach, California.
"I said, 'We gotta get that case,'" recalls Holmes. "And Don's like, 'That's not the response I expected.' But I thought, 'It's a historic opportunity. How can you not take this case?' That's number one. And number two is, frankly, we thought that we're good lawyers, and the only thing keeping us from having a really huge practice is people not knowing about us."
Says Pyke: "The overriding thought was it might be good exposure. Obviously, financially, it's unlikely there could be a big enough recovery that we'll make a lot of money. The main thing, though, was--how do you get this opportunity, and then say pass?"
Fisher had his own reasons for wanting the case; sexual harassment law is a special interest for the tiny, trim 40-year-old father of five. "It's just something that deeply offends me on a personal level," he explains, "the notion that anyone would use their power over a subordinate in that way." Since leaving Locke, Purnell, Fisher says, he has handled "maybe a dozen" of the suits, and is deeply concerned by what sees. "What I've seen is that the federal courts are so flooded with them, they've become almost callous. Not because they don't care if women are harassed, but the courts just haven't had the resources to deal with them.
"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.
There's more. From October until the present, no legal ground has been uncontested by Bennett, no discovery met without objection, no simple assent to a routine request. As an example, Jim Fisher points wearily to the recent White House dump of documents attacking Kathleen Willey's credibility. Less than 24 hours after Willey told her tale of being pawed by the president on 60 Minutes, the White House produced a number of letters Willey sent the president after the alleged incident.
The problem: Jones' lawyers had requested the suddenly appearing documents back in December.
In relaxed moments, away from the flashbulbs, there's a definite gee-whiz aspect to the lawyers' tales of their great adventure. "We laugh now at the dumb things we said," recalls Holmes. "You know: It's a single event. How complicated can it really be? We'll take some depositions, they'll take some depositions; we'll send some written discovery, they'll object, we'll file a motion to compel. There will be this many depositions, and then they'll file a motion for summary judgment, we'll respond, we'll win or we'll lose and we'll go to trial. How hard can it really be?
"And of course we way, way underestimated the amount of involvement it would take."
Since October, they say, over 50 percent of the firm's time--about $150,000 a month in effort that might have been billed and collected from other clients--has gone into the Jones case. "There toward the end, we had six people in six different cites--and the investigators in another," says Pyke. The cost of the Jones case to date has been $800,000 in attorney time. "And we bill at cheap rates," Holmes points out. (Rader, Campbell's rates range from $130 an hour for McCord Wilson to $200 and hour for Donovan Campbell; by comparison, Skadden Arps' rates range from $150 an hour for its least expensive associates to $475 for Bennett.)
Of course, even accepting their protests that they are not politically motivated, there is nonetheless enormous irony in the fact that the Rutherford Institute is helping to fund Jones' sexual harassment case against the feminist-friendly, pro-choice Clinton.
After all, sexual harassment law is the brainchild of feminist legal scholars. And the Rutherford Institute has not exactly made its name as the champion of women's rights. Virginia lawyer John W. Whitehead started the institute in 1982, naming it for a 17th-century intellectual who argued that even kings are subject to God's law. While Whitehead styles his institute as "an international civil liberties...organization," this isn't the ACLU; Whitehead's group specializes in defending "religious liberties," which in the past has translated into the anti-gay, anti-abortion, pro-school-prayer-and-nativity-scene agenda.
Given this, many observers--not to mention the president's own legal team--have been quick to assume that Jones' new gladiators are pursuing her case for the sheer joy of blood sport, rather than out of any deeply held belief in the rights of women. "You know they aren't doing it because they're for women," charges one female member of the president's legal team. Indeed, some seem almost to view this as a clever attack, some sort of perverse plot to turn back the clock for women by taking sexual harassment law to its illogical extreme.
Jones' lawyers adamantly deny the charge. "I hesitate even to say this, because it's gonna be taken out of context," says Holmes, "But what that reminds me of is my tort professor at Baylor saying the best way to get a bad law changed is to enforce it.
"That said, I don't have any fundamental philosophical problem with the civil rights laws. Or Title VII. And I sure don't think that it's just OK--that if everything Paula Jones says happened, happened, that there should be no legal redress for that."
Adds Pyke: "That's just silly. 'Paula, we're only going to take your case if it undermines the laws you're suing under.'"
Surprisingly, and with the exception of one pleading filed by Campbell last February--a document claiming the president "sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, and/or committed oral sex with a 21-year-old White House intern"--it is Bennett whose pleadings can fairly be said to froth at the mouth. He constantly accuses Jones' attorneys of bad faith, of lying, of using the legal system for improper ends.
In fact, though, the Jones lawyers were not on an entirely spurious fishing expedition as they pursued evidence of Clinton's peccadilloes. (Although some of the more ancient tales of Clinton's romances are clearly not fair game for a jury.) Some of the evidence goes to a key element of Jones' case: Then-Gov. Clinton invited Paula Jones to a room on the eighth floor of the Excelsior Hotel with the intent of sexually harassing her.
Similarly, Jones' quest for evidence that Clinton regularly used state troopers to solicit women--not exactly a flattering portrait of the governor of Arkansas--goes to Jones' legal claim that Clinton conspired with Trooper Ferguson to get Jones to that room in order to put the make on her. Thus the troopers' tales of soliciting women--as well as the testimony of women thus recruited--go directly to this part of Jones' case.
Paula Jones' core case seems to have held up extremely well. Consider the testimony of Trooper Ferguson. Ferguson, who still works for the Arkansas state police, is no friend of Jones, as indicated by his choice of counsel: Ferguson is represented by Jonesboro attorney Bill Bristow, who recently announced his candidacy for governor of Arkansas on the Democratic ticket. Bristow claims to be working for Ferguson gratis.
Ferguson has his credibility problems--not the least of which appear to be notes and transcripts from interviews he did in '93 and '94, when he told a far less pro-Clinton story to a Los Angeles Times reporter.
Yet the startling thing is not where his testimony contradicts Jones, but how much it bolsters her story. Ferguson admits that on May 8, 1991, he escorted Gov. Clinton to a conference being held by the Arkansas agency for which Paula Jones worked. After the governor delivered a speech to the conference, he stood outside the ballroom chatting with reporters, while Ferguson chatted with two women passing out nametags at the registration table: Paula Jones (her name was Corbin then) and her friend and co-worker Pamela Blackard.
Accounts of who flirted with whom first vary. In depositions both Jones and Blackard insist the governor was leering at Jones and sent Ferguson to tell her the governor wanted to meet her. (According to The Washington Post, Ferguson's message was "[Y]ou make [the governor's] knees knock.") Ferguson, in turn, now claims Jones made the first move. "[S]he said that she thought he was good-looking, had sexy hair, wanted me to tell him that. Also...said she'd like to meet him. And he had come back that she had that come-hither look."
"That's a phrase I have used," the president admitted in deposition. "[I]t wouldn't surprise me if I'd said that to a trooper."
Both Jones and Blackard deny that Jones flirted with Clinton, and Ferguson appears to have told a version far closer to the women's in those Los Angeles Times interviews. Whichever way it went, shortly afterward Clinton told Ferguson he was expecting a "call from the White House" and asked the trooper to get a suite.
Ferguson subsequently approached the table where Jones and Blackard were sitting and handed Jones a slip of paper with a room number written on it. All three agree that Ferguson told Jones the governor wanted to meet her.
According to Jones: "I said, 'What for? What does he want to meet with me for?' And I was excited, though. You know, but I thought why would he want to meet with me? And I asked him that question, and I voiced it to Pam.
"And he [Ferguson] said, 'It's OK. We do this all the time.'
"[I] discussed it with Pam. She said, 'Good, maybe we can find a job. You know, maybe we can get a better job.' And I'm not stupid, yeah, I was going to go up there and see if I could maybe get another job or find a way to put applications to better myself and to get another job, a higher-paying job. And I thought maybe I could help my friend out and stuff. And I was excited to meet the governor."
Ferguson tells what happened next: "It wasn't, oh, three or four minutes she came around the corner...I thought she'd go on up, but she kept staying. I said, 'Do you want me to walk up with you?' And she said, 'Yeah.'"
The president does not deny he may have invited Jones up. Instead, he says he doesn't remember meeting her, but at the same time, knows he never dropped his trousers and asked her to "kiss it," as Jones claims. Yet six witnesses since 1994 have consistently said that Jones told them her story, in detail, within minutes or days of the time it happened.
Still, Jones has her challenges too. For even if the event occurred much as Jones said it did, harassment alone is not enough. Jones has the burden of showing that it was unwelcome harassment. And that is where the ugliest battle will be fought: over the "greedy slut" defense.
"It is 100 percent clear to me that the way they're going to try this case is, number one, 'it never happened', and number two, 'she was asking for it,'" says Holmes. "And if he wasn't the president of the United States, they would jettison the 'it never happened' part, because there's going to be almost irrefutable evidence that Bill Clinton made plans for a hotel room [and] summoned this low-level employee up there with the intent of sex on his mind.
"I think that a lot of the president's defenders basically think that it happened, but that she was asking for it--and so she's not playing fair pool now by making a big deal out of it."
The real test of the lawyers in Jones vs. Clinton will take place early next month, largely out of the public eye. Summonses will go out toregistered voters in the 11 counties that constitute the Eastern District of Arkansas. On a day yet to be announced, those responding will hie themselves to the federal courthouse in Little Rock, where they will fill out a lengthy questionnaire that attorneys and jury consultants for both sides submitted to the judge two weeks ago.
The questionnaire will take the better part of an hour to fill out. It will ask a number of personal questions, including queries about the potential jurors' views on gender roles and how they feel about sexual harassment law. They will be quizzed about authority figures generally, and how they feel about the presidency in particular. They will be examined about their own experience with sexual harassment and sexual assault. Courthouse officials will collect the questionnaires and distribute them to the lawyers on both sides.
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."
It might help if feminists were out doing consciousness-raising, much as they did in the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas imbroglio. There, as in Jones' case, initial polls indicated that at first a skeptical public tended to disbelieve Hill, who accused Supreme Court nominee Thomas of harassment. The numbers were due in part to popular misunderstandings about how women react to sexual harassment. (Those responding to the polls apparently couldn't understand why Hill continued to work for Thomas after he allegedly harassed her when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.)
Later, after feminists embarked on a public education campaign about harassment, the public came to believe Hill, according to polls.
In Jones' case, however, that education process has not yet begun. Instead, we are treated to the amazing sight of feminists agreeing with positions that would restrict the reach of sexual harassment laws. Thus we saw Gloria Steinem, in The New York Times, endorsing the Title VII equivalent of the rule that allows dogs one bite before their owners can be held liable: Clinton is not a harasser, she wrote, because "Clinton took no for an answer." Call it the "one paw" rule. We saw Anita Hill on Meet the Press--Anita Hill!--suggesting that Paula Jones has no case because she didn't suffer any specific, adverse employment consequences.
So have feminists simply decided to toss poor Paula overboard in the interest of the greater good? Is this, as many have charged, a matter of class bias? Or is it politics, pure and simple?
The answer is unclear. But to some degree, Jones appears to be a victim of abortion politics. For many feminists abortion trumps all, and Paula Jones has chosen to consort with the enemy. To quote from the National Organization for Women's press release of January 10, 1997: "Paula Jones picked her forum, and she picked her friends...NOW will not be rushed to judgment in this case by what may well be right-wing attempts to undermine us. Whether intentionally or inadvertently setting NOW up for criticism, Jones declined to talk with NOW President Patricia Ireland, but instead aligned herself with Pat Robertson, right-wing publicist Floyd Brown and Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry"
Asked about this press release, Fisher seemed unfamiliar with the episode, but not at all surprised. "The fact that Paula got such bad advice early on--that [spurning Ireland] would be entirely consistent," he says.
Ironically, Jones' lawyers are quite vocal that her case would have been much stronger had she not associated with the far right in the beginning. "I think that her early advisors made her eminently tossable," Holmes says. "And I don't mean to be overly critical, because they were faced with a difficult situation. She had no money. And so they clearly had to rally some support. So who do they go to? They go to CPAC! You know, the Conservative Political Action Committee. Well, it's so obvious that that's not the smart thing to do. You're just going to give 'em something that isn't there...Paula is not a conservative operative. But you've just given them some basis for saying she is one."
Still, Jones is not without her feminist admirers. Last summer, after the Supreme Court ruled that her case could go forward, Jones received a single letter from Ann M. Golonka, president of the southern Nevada chapter of NOW.
"Paula," began the letter, "I have waited in vain for the leaders of national women's groups to speak out on your behalf. They were so quick to rally behind Anita Hill, and yet they refuse to give you the support you had every right to expect. Since they are holding back, I decided to send you my heartfelt personal support and let you know that I am thinking of you and wishing you well. Keep your chin up and your powder dry.
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