I just read an interesting book by Jeffrey Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy. It chronicles President Clinton’s issues with Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. (I figure it’s relevant to this blog since it deals with sexual harassment. And besides, the appellate courts in California have been silent on FEHA cases recently.)
Why would one want to revisit that sordid episode in American history? Well, it’s hard to believe but it’s been 20 years or so since this story dominated the headlines. And with time, it’s interesting to go back and consider all of the the issues – the political and the legal.
Here are some of the lessons I took away from all of this:
- When you are accused of something like sexual harassment or assault, never lie to your lawyers about it. Come clean.
- When you are representing a client accused of sexual harassment or assault, and your client has a reputation, don’t believe everything your client says. Adopt President Reagan’s maxim on dealing with the Soviets, “Trust, but verify.”
- Additionally, in this situation, don’t fan the flames by trying to act like a litigation bad-ass by trashing the victim because it will probably come back to haunt you and your client.
- When deposing witnesses, get to the point. Don’t confuse things with silly definitions such as definitions of “sex.” Just ask what happened and deal with definitions later, such as when filing or responding to MSJ’s.
- If you can settle early, especially when the case has merit, do so. Don’t let pride or paranoia get in the way of a smart decision.
I always wondered why Robert Bennett allowed President Clinton to lie under oath and why they trashed Paula Jones. But apparently, according to this book, Mr. Clinton was less than candid with Mr. Bennett. And that’s a recipe for disaster. If ever there was a case that should have been settled quickly and quietly, it was the Paula Jones case. The Clinton strategy of attack, attack, attack may be appropriate in some cases, especially when the underlying case has no factual merit, but it was folly in this case.
The Paula Jones case parlayed into the Monica Lewinsky case. It’s easy for observers to say that Mr. Clinton should have fessed-up at the git-go, but he didn’t. And Mr. Clinton was later impeached—which was a stupid move by the Republicans but which Clinton started. The Arkansas Judiciary suspended Bill Clinton’s law license.
It’s also fascinating to review all of the participants and their actions and motivations. It seemed like everyone had an agenda—the witnesses, the reporters, the lawyers, the politicians, and the political advisors. Even though all employment-related cases have these characteristics with parties and witnesses, representing a client at the center of a storm like this would tax even the steeliest of litigators. A lying client, unrelenting MSM coverage, greedy politicians.
One of the most disturbing parts of the whole story was Kenneth Starr’s Office of the Independent Counsel. I was certainly no fan of President Clinton’s at the time, but Kenneth Starr’s determination to get Mr. Clinton at all costs was a political abuse of his authority. And remember when the Starr Report was released? I recall everyone in the office glued to the computer screens reading it.
But what did the OIC’s investigation accomplish? Impeachment? Was it worth it?
I think not.
Recently, Kenneth Starr’s reputation was recently sullied by the Baylor University Sex Assault Scandal. I guess Kenneth Starr didn’t learn much from the Clinton affair.
We are in crazy times now with the progressive left out to get President Trump by accusing him of colluding with the Russians to steal the election while Trump supporters and anyone who believes in privacy and the Fourth Amendment are alarmed by the surveillance of Trump before and after the election. And from both sides are calls for “independent” investigations or special prosecutors.
Kenneth Starr’s OIC should be a warning to all. Special prosecutors get unlimited budgets and staff and it’s only natural for special prosecutors to drag things out and dig up anything they can so they can issue reports to justify their existence.
The other amazing fact from all of this was the silence of the feminists. They hurt their own cause by sticking with President Clinton.
My next read? The Death of American Virtue: Clinton v. Starr. I’ll post my thoughts when I finish it.