The perils of Paula

The secrets of Jones vs. Clinton are beginning to out, and in the darnedest manner: Through friendly fire.

On June 10, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright released letters that Paula Jones' former lawyers, Joseph Cammarata and Gil Davis, sent their client last summer. The letters, which concern an attempted settlement with President Clinton, had been sent to Jones immediately before Davis and Cammarata withdrew as Jones' counsel.

Last week, Jones' current, Dallas-based lawyers filed a list of issues they will present to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Along with legal challenges to Wright's decision in April to toss out Jones' sexual harassment case against the president, the Dallas firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke complained of Judge Wright's decision to release what they claim to be "confidential and privileged letters."

The resulting news reports suggested the letters show that Jones obstinately turned down a $700,000 settlement over the strong protests of Cammarata and Davis. Indeed, the letters indicate a heaping helping of venality on someone's part; among other tidbits, they assert that by settling, Jones can make a substantial sum of money from selling her story. They also charge that by "holding out for the apology that will never happen," Jones was changing tactics and litigating for an improper purpose: to "punish" Clinton.

Yet the news stories left several questions unanswered: Why had privileged letters gone to the judge in the first place? Why had she placed them under seal--so far under seal that Jones' new Dallas-based lawyers were never allowed copies? And why was a federal judge releasing privileged, sealed letters now, while the case was on appeal?

"Joseph [Cammarata] asked the judge to release those letters for the appeal," explains David Pyke, one of Jones' current lawyers. "Only Paula knew these letters existed. We never knew. We never saw them, and they weren't in the stuff we got from Joe.

"The judge's order [allowing Davis and Cammarata to withdraw as Jones' counsel] made some out-of-the-way remark about [Davis and Cammarata] being entitled to their fees. In our notice of appeal, we cited that as a potential issue in the appeal. When Joe [Cammarata] saw that, he hit the roof."

As a result, Cammarata and Davis intervened in Jones' appeal--against their former client. They asked Judge Wright to release their letters to Jones "in the interest of completeness." In other words, they protected their own interests at the expense of their former client.

The Dallas Observer has obtained two interesting pieces of this puzzle that have not previously surfaced--the contract between Paula Jones and Cammarata and Davis, and a transcript of the hearing at which Judge Wright allowed Davis and Cammarata to withdraw.

Together with the newly released letters, these documents show that the "settlement"--which may or may not have existed--broke down not so much over apologies as over the issue of Cammarata and Davis' fees. They also shed light on one of the central mysteries of Jones vs. Clinton: What are Paula Jones' motives? Finally, they suggest that seven months before she threw Jones' lawsuit out of court, Judge Wright was telegraphing her eagerness to be rid of the Paula Jones case.

Last August, the case of Jones vs. Clinton had reached a critical juncture.
That June, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that Jones could go to trial while President Clinton was in office. Though Jones' suit had been pending since 1994, by the end of last summer neither side had deposed any witnesses, the most expensive part of a lawsuit.

By the summer of 1997, Gil Davis and Joseph Cammarata had been on the case for three years. By their own reckoning, they had nearly $800,000 in attorney time in the case--no small matter for a two-lawyer shop. And they knew what was to come. Discovery would be brutal. Perhaps more importantly, they knew it would likely be fatal to any attempt to settle their client's case. When Jones' lawyers began subpoenaing women who might have had sexual relationships with Clinton, they reasoned, the White House would resist settling the case to avoid the appearance of a cover-up.

For her part, Jones apparently saw little reason to settle. She had waited three years for her day in court against Clinton, and wanted her apology. "[Y]ou need an affirmative explicit apology (presumably 'I'm sorry for my bad acts') and an admission of wrongdoing," her lawyers wrote on August 19, 1997, summarizing a conversation they had had with Jones. "You conceded you know the president will never strictly apologize for his conduct."

As Davis and Cammarata knew, Jones needed a reason to settle, so they used money as both carrot and stick. "You have received our bill for services rendered in this case through July 31, 1997...which totals, net after some payments, $759,870.40." They warn their client, repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, that she is on the hook for every dime. "You understand that a very large potential obligation will be yours for future fees and expenses."

The only problem is, it isn't clear that Paula Jones owed Davis and Cammarata a cent.

On May 5, 1994, when Davis and Cammarata took Jones' case, they were in a bit of a hurry. The statute of limitations on her claims would run out in three days. Not only did they have to draft a complaint with sufficient detail to strike fear in the White House, but they simultaneously had to negotiate with Bob Bennett, the president's counsel, who was attempting to stave off a suit.

Reducing their employment agreement to writing was hardly a priority. At that first meeting, they sketched the outline of their agreement with Jones on a 99-cent notepad. On the first page of the handwritten two-and-a-half-page contract, Davis and Cammarata agree they will receive one-third of any eventual judgment or settlement. The agreement also calls for Jones to pay all expenses out of her share.

But the contingency arrangement also contains some troubling news for Jones: "Paula Jones acknowledges and agrees that she is responsible for payment of any out-of-pocket expenses which may be incurred in the pursuit or prosecution of the litigation..."

It continues: "It is understood that a legal defense fund may be established to help defray the costs and fees to be incurred in this litigation. In the event that such a legal defense fund is established, Paula Jones agrees that she shall pay Gilbert K. Davis and Joseph Cammarata a legal fee of $250 per hour for each hour of services rendered in connection with this litigation. In addition, Paula Jones shall pay [Davis and Cammarata] a retainer of $100,000."

A legal defense fund was established. It was a smashing failure, though it did pay some expenses and fees. Does Jones owe hourly fees? Or did the contract contemplate hourly payment only if the fund collected enough to cover hourly fees? Did the failure to pay the retainer mean this provision was waived? And how can one squeeze blood from a stay-at-home mom who drives an $7,500 used Mercedes and lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her currently unemployed husband and two sons?

For his part, Cammarata declines to address the fee question. "I'm not going to divulge that, because it's between me and her," he says.

According to a letter dated August 29, 1997, Jones' refusal to settle was the basis for the attorneys asking Judge Wright to permit them to withdraw. And according to the transcript of a hearing held on September 9 over the issue of their withdrawal, Jones' refusal to settle seems to have been based, in large part, on her unhappiness with her attorneys' insistence that they reap more than two-thirds of the proposed settlement to cover expenses.

Not surprisingly, Jones had a problem with this arrangement. "It's our client's view that that settlement is...unacceptable to her for reasons that...varied a bit between language, but that...primarily, at the end, focused on...the amount of money," Gil Davis told Judge Wright during the hearing.

Cammarata amplified his partner's argument a bit by bringing up a thorn: conservative gadfly and Jones' onetime advisor Susan Carpenter McMillan. "[S]he has interposed herself," Cammarata explained to the judge. "And despite our best efforts to extricate her, she, and now her husband, are--are, I think, negotiating or dealing with us."

The upshot of the McMillans' intervention was their contention that Cammarata and Davis weren't due any money other than one-third of any eventual settlement, Cammarata told the judge.

"And though we were entitled to all of it, we reduced our fee...seeking some assurance that out of any other proceeds that she might get out of the case that we could be paid [the balance]," he said.

Judge Wright had little problem siding with the lawyers. "I find that the attorney-client relationship has been irreparably harmed by the actions of the plaintiff, Ms. Jones, with respect to...these other people, the McMillans." Warning Jones that it is up to her to "get other counsel," she also offers this vision of the future: "As you might be aware, Ms. Jones, there are such things as motions for summary judgment..." She also warns Jones that she, and not the president, may well be put on trial.

In this litigation, truer words were never spoken.


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