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Clinton faces license lawsuit

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — In an unprecedented rebuke of a sitting president, an Arkansas Supreme Court committee on Friday sued President Clinton to strip him of his law license and declared he lacked "overall fitness" to be a lawyer.

The committee's lawsuit accused the president of engaging in serious misconduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair, including false testimony, that "damages the legal profession."

"The conduct of Mr. Clinton . . . was motivated by a desire to protect himself from the embarrassment of his own conduct," the court's Committee on Professional Conduct wrote.

The five-page lawsuit asks that Clinton be disbarred for conducting "himself in a manner that violates the model rules of professional conduct as adopted by the Arkansas Supreme Court."

The president has 30 days to respond, and his private attorney vowed a vigorous fight to retain the law license.

"We fundamentally disagree with the complaint filed today and will defend vigorously against it," attorney David Kendall said in a statement released by the White House.

Shortly after the news, the president arranged an evening round of golf to begin the Fourth of July holiday weekend. He has said his lawyers told him that if he were to be treated like other lawyers, there would be "no way in the world" that he could lose his license.

Eight of the panel's 14 regular and auxiliary members have disqualified themselves from the case — five citing ties to Clinton or the Democratic Party. The remaining six members have pursued the case, voting May 19 to approve a lawsuit aimed at revoking Clinton's Arkansas law license.

The panel said that, in a sworn deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, Clinton gave misleading answers about his relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

The committee accused Clinton of "serious misconduct" and defined the term as involving "dishonesty, deceit, fraud and misrepresentation." It said it based its lawsuit on complaints filed by a federal judge and by an Atlanta law firm, the Southeastern Legal Foundation.

The five-page lawsuit said Clinton's conduct "damages the legal profession and demonstrates a lack of overall fitness to hold a license to practice law." It was accompanied by dozens of pages of exhibits, including a partial transcript of Clinton's deposition in the Jones case.

The case was assigned by computer draw to Judge John Ward, a former Democratic state representative whom Clinton in 1989 appointed to a chancery court post. Ward said immediately that he would step aside.

"He appointed me as a judge. It would be an awful appearance of partiality and that's also a concern of the courts," said Ward, who held his legislative post while Clinton was Arkansas governor.

Marie-Bernarde Miller, a lawyer and former nun who this year successfully argued to remove a sitting judge from office, was selected to handle the state's case.

Regardless of the outcome in local court, it is expected the case will ultimately end up before the state Supreme Court.


On the Net: Southeastern Legal Foundation: www.southeasternlegal.org

The White House: www.whitehouse.gov