University law professors said a federal judge’s decision to throw out Paula Jones’ sexual assault suit against President Clinton was sound, based on the evidence at hand.
“I think that without further evidence, this was a reasonable judgement call by the judge,” said Sam Krislov, a professor of political science and law.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright’s decision to dismiss the suit marks a huge legal victory for a beleaguered President Clinton. He has been hit with a half dozen other claims of alleged sexual improprieties, the most publicized of which was an alleged relationship with a White House intern.
University experts said Wednesday that they don’t expect Wright’s ruling to affect investigations into those claims. “This is the cavalry coming to rescue, but there’s still plenty more to happen,” said Larry Jacobs, an associate professor of political science.
In her decision, Wright said Jones’s allegations did not meet “the rigorous standards for establishing a claim of outrage under Arkansas law.”
Jones filed suit against Clinton alleging she had suffered at her job after refusing then-Gov. Clinton’s request for oral sex in a Little Rock, Ark., hotel room in 1991.
Throughout the highly publicized suit, filed in 1994, Clinton’s lawyers maintained that Jones’ allegations were unsubstantiated because there was no proof the incident occurred or that she was punished at her state job for rejecting Clinton’s alleged advances. Claims of harassment must involve the behavior inside the workplace.
“The legal issue here is: Did Clinton’s actions result in a hostile, unbearable work environment? The judge says, No,'” Jacobs said.
Although Jones’ lawyers originally pushed for charges of sexual harassment, they amended the charges to include sexual assault, Krislov said. He said the change was due to a lack of evidence of harassment.
In her 39-page opinion, Judge Wright poked holes in Jones’ legal standing to sue in either situation.
“While the court will certainly agree that plaintiffs’ allegations describe offensive conduct, the court … has found that the governor’s alleged conduct does not constitute sexual assault,” the opinion said.
Jones’ employment records showed she had been given regular raises.
Law experts are divided on the broader implications of the judge’s decision to dismiss the charges. University law professor Mary Louise Fellows reads double meaning into the dismissal.
On one hand, the decision could be a blow to the rights of employees to bring allegations of sexual misconduct against their employers, Fellows said. But on the other hand, Fellows questioned the rationale of allowing the president to become involved in a civil dispute during a presidential term.
“Can we allow our president to be subjected to this barrage of allegations which tie the U.S. in knots?” Fellows asked. She said she expects Jones’ lawyers to appeal Wright’s decision.
— The Associated Press contributed to the report.