A million to one

Despite the seemingly impossible odds, there are good reasons why Paula Jones might appeal the dismissal of her case.

By Jonathan Broder
Published April 16, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- They say your chances of winning the lottery are roughly the same whether you play or not. The same goes for the success of any appeal by Paula Jones.

At a news conference on Thursday in Dallas, two weeks after federal Judge Susan Webber Wright dismissed Jones' sexual harassment suit against President Clinton, Jones and her lawyers will announce whether she plans to appeal Wright's decision.

Intense consultations were reported to be going on in the Jones camp Wednesday afternoon, but Nisha N. Mohammed of the Rutherford Institute, which is paying Jones' legal expenses, said an appeal was "90 percent sure."

"I guess when you've gone this far, it's hard to stop," said one of Jones' friends, who asked not to be identified.

However, unlike Jones' original suit, which rocked the White House in 1993, the prospect of an appeal packs far less of a threat to Clinton and is likely to take up far less of his lawyers' time.

White House officials are declining comment until Jones announces her intention. But one White House official couldn't conceal his contempt for Clinton's accuser and her conservative spokeswoman, Susan Carpenter-McMillan. "For Paula Jones, this has become a living," said the official. "For Susan Carpenter-McMillan, it's a desperate bid to extend her 15 minutes of fame, which had mercifully expired."

The White House confidence stems from a number of factors. Most legal observers give an appeal little chance of success. Even Jones' lawyers, according to sources familiar with her legal discussions, have presented her with "certain realities" if she decides to appeal, the principle one being the conservative nature of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when it comes to issues of sexual harassment. In such cases, the St. Louis-based court is considered one of the toughest in the country, ruling consistently in favor of defendants.

As important to the White House is the fact that any decision by the federal appellate court to hear, let alone rule on, an appeal by Jones would be at least a year away, according to legal experts. Were the 8th Circuit Court to rule in Jones' favor, Clinton's lawyers almost certainly would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process that could take at least another year. And if the Supreme Court upholds the 8th Circuit's decision, that would mean sending the original suit back to the Judge Wright, the Republican appointee who threw the case out on summary judgment.

If all of that happens -- and that's a very big if, say legal experts -- Clinton will already have finished his term and left office.

Neither would a successful appeal help independent counsel Kenneth Starr's inquiry into possible perjury and subornation of perjury by Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair. Wright's dismissal set back Starr's efforts to prove such crimes, since the allegations against Clinton stemmed from the president's own deposition in the Jones affair. Given the long time frame for any appeal, any reversal of Wright's ruling would come long after Starr has written his report, effectively neutralizing any impact on Starr's proceedings.

Despite such formidable obstacles, sources close to Jones say her husband, Steven Jones, and Carpenter-McMillan have been urging her to press forward.

For one thing, Jones has little to lose. Filing an appeal will be relatively cheap, costing Jones -- or the Rutherford Institute -- probably no more than $10,000 in court fees.

Politically, an appeal will keep alive one of the conservative right's most effective charges against Clinton -- that his alleged behavior toward Jones and other women reveals deep flaws in his character and fitness to run the country.

Jones and her close associates also have a financial incentive to keep the case alive. The Paula Jones Legal Fund, established to pay her legal bills, has been taken over by Jones and her husband, an aspiring actor who was recently dismissed from his job as a ticket agent at Northwest Airlines. There have been reports in Salon and elsewhere that she has received $100,000 from the fund so far, that a contract with her direct-mail fund-raiser promises her another $200,000 and that she has used some of the money for personal expenses, including new clothes and kennel fees for her dog. It was also noticeable that when reporters sought her reaction to Wright's dismissal of her lawsuit, Jones, dressed in Spandex workout gear, spoke to them from behind the wheel of a Mercedes as she drove to her health club.

Brent Perry, a Dallas lawyer who serves as the attorney for the Paula Jones Legal Fund, told Salon that if Jones files an appeal, "the fund will continue." He said the fund currently contains "no more than $50,000," raised by direct-mail appeals and by the fund's Web site.

Asked how Jones could afford to be driving a Mercedes, Perry said the car was "at least 10 years old." He added: "I can assure you she didn't pay any more for that car than you would pay for a Ford Escort."

Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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