President Clinton’s license to practice law should have been suspended immediately after he was served a contempt of court citation and impeached by Congress, according to guidelines issued by the American Bar Association.
When a lawyer has engaged in “intentional interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud,” or when “a lawyer engages in any other intentional conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation,” then the lawyer should be suspended “from the practice of law immediately pending a final determination of the ultimate discipline to be imposed,” according to the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility in its guidelines, “Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions.”
Although formal disbarment proceedings against the president are under way in Arkansas, no action has yet been taken.
A copy of the ABA guidelines was provided to WorldNetDaily by Matthew J. Glavin, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, the law firm that first filed the complaint against Clinton in September 1998. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright, who presided over the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, also filed a complaint against Clinton after she cited him for contempt of court and fined him $90,000.
Neal was subsequently
ordered by the Arkansas Supreme Court to take action on the complaints, although some of his duties have since been taken over by the chairman of the committee.
Arkansas attorney L. Lynn Hogue filed a formal complaint on behalf of
the Southeastern Legal Foundation against Clinton in September 1998.
No action was taken for 17 months, so Hogue went to the Arkansas Supreme Court and
forced the Committee on Professional Conduct to proceed. The state Supreme Court’s historic writ of mandamus was a slap in Neal’s face for not following the rules, according to Glavin.
Now Glavin is concerned that the Committee on Professional Conduct may also try to ignore the ABA guidelines as they consider what penalty to assess against Clinton.
Hogue’s complaint was based on Clinton’s untruthful testimony in the Paula Jones case. Later the determination by Judge Wright was added to the complaint. Wright issued a civil contempt citation for Clinton’s misrepresentations under oath.
Wright’s April 1999 citation states in part: “It is not acceptable to employ deceptions and falsehoods in an attempt to obstruct the judicial process.”
The citation also mentioned an even higher standard expected of Clinton because of his position. The judge added that the president’s “conduct in this case, coming as it did from a member of the bar and the chief law enforcement officer of this Nation, was without justification and undermined the integrity of the judicial system” — language very similar to the American Bar Association’s guidelines calling for immediate suspension of an attorney’s license.
According to the ABA’s guidelines, it is not necessary for a lawyer to be charged or convicted of a crime before the offense rises to the level that would require disbarment. A failure to be honest is of such concern to the ABA that the guidelines repeat the need for immediate suspension of a license while waiting for disbarment proceedings.
“This duty to the public is breached regardless of whether a criminal charge has been brought against the lawyer,” says the American Bar Association guidelines. “In fact, this type of misconduct is so closely related to practice and poses such an immediate threat to the public that the lawyer should be suspended from the practice of law immediately pending a final determination of the ultimate discipline to be imposed,” the guidelines state.
No question of fact
Clinton did not file an appeal of Wright’s citation, so there is no question of fact in the ethics violation, says Glavin.
Attorney Kenneth Reeves, chairman of the committee, agreed with Glavin when previously contacted by WorldNetDaily, but Reeves would not say if the facts justify disbarment.
Clinton was served official notice of the complaints against him and given 30 days to respond. He requested an extension until after he is out of office, but Reeves denied that request. It was an unusual move, because it overstepped Neal in responding to the extension request, according to Glavin.
“After consultation with the committee, I, as committee chairman, have granted an extension until Friday, April 21, 2000 for a response to be filed. There will be no further comment or communication about this matter from this committee, or the executive director’s office, until such time, if any, that the procedures authorize public disclosure,”
said Reeves in a letter to Clinton telling him of the deadline.
The deadline for response by Clinton has come and gone without any word from Reeves or the committee. They have 10 business days in which to provide Hogue and Wright a copy of whatever Clinton may have sent to respond to the claims against him, allowing them to then file a rebuttal.
Neal refuses to say anything about the status of the case, and Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, isn’t talking about it either.
An Associated Press story claims an unnamed official reported that a response was filed by the deadline, but independent verification of that claim could not be obtained from the committee or from Kendall.
“We called the committee and they wouldn’t confirm anything,” said Glavin, “Other than to say that if and when they receive it, they will comply with the law and within 10 days get us a copy.”
If the committee does disbar Clinton, he will be given the option to voluntarily surrender his license to avoid the stigma of being the only president in history to be disbarred while still in office.
Glavin said he is not convinced Clinton has actually filed a response. He has often said that he believes Clinton will continue to keep the issue as quiet as possible, so he will not file a response to avoid having it dissected in the press. He said he thinks Clinton plans to let the process proceed without a response to the charges, and if necessary surrender his license.
Glavin told WorldNetDaily that Clinton defenders have ignored the requirements of the American Bar Association, and he is concerned that the public is not aware of the clear-cut guidelines Reeve and his committee are supposed to follow.
“Disbarment is the only appropriate penalty under the specific circumstances in which President Clinton finds himself — licensed attorney, high elected official in position of public trust, multiple accusations of wrongdoing, continuing denial by accused, found in contempt by court for lying under oath and obstruction of justice,” Glavin told WorldNetDaily after he reviewed the ABA guidelines.
“First, defenders have argued that Clinton has paid the ultimate penalty for his professional wrongdoing through the process of impeachment,” explained Glavin in a phone interview. “Second, defenders have argued that Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright’s contempt citation and subsequent $90,000 fine served as adequate punishment for professional wrongdoing. Third, defenders have argued that, in any case, disbarment is not an appropriate penalty for lying under oath and obstruction of justice in a civil matter.
“Each of these defenses are baseless in fact and in law,” said Glavin.
The ABA guidelines support Glavin’s claim, stating that “disciplinary sanctions are separate and apart from penalties which may be imposed solely for civil or criminal conduct, or contempt of court.”
Although some argue that the $90,000 fine leveled against Clinton was sufficient punishment for lying to the court, the ABA guidelines state, “the lawyer discipline system is in addition to and serves purposes different from contempt powers and other mechanisms available to the judge.”
Glavin said the process of disbarment is not to punish offending lawyers, but is instead a means for restoring public faith in the legal system. The ABA agrees.
“Members of the public are entitled to be able to trust lawyers to protect their property, liberty, and their lives. The community expects lawyers to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and lawyers have a duty not to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, or interference with the administration of justice,” say the ABA guidelines.
Another reason given by the ABA for strict sanctions against lawyers is the need to deter “unethical behavior among all members of the profession.” The guidelines make it clear that the disbarment process is even more important when a public figure is involved, so the public will see that the system “does not play favorites.”
The guidelines also state that repeated offenses or a “pattern of misconduct” should be reason for a tougher penalty.
The ABA is very specific about when disbarment is appropriate. The guidelines state that a lawyer should lose his license when he, “with the intent to deceive the court, makes a false statement, submits a false document, or improperly withholds material information,” according to the guidelines. The guidelines further state: “Lawyers should be disbarred for intentionally misusing the judicial process to benefit the lawyer or another when the lawyer’s conduct causes injury or potentially serious injury to a party, or serious or potentially serious interference with a legal proceeding.”
The ABA is even more concerned when an offending lawyer is also an elected official. In such situations it claims: “Disbarment is generally appropriate when a lawyer in an official or governmental position knowingly misuses the position with the intent to obtain a significant benefit or advantage for himself or another, or with the intent to cause serious or potentially serious injury to a party or to the integrity of the legal process.”
Personal integrity is considered to be the most fundamental duty lawyers owe to the public, according to the ABA guidelines. In addition, the ABA says lawyers who hold public office must be held to even higher standards.
Clinton’s response to the complaint, if any, will not be released to the public by the committee because it is protected by the committee rules.
Reeves said he expects the entire process to be completed no later than May 19, the next regularly scheduled meeting of his committee.