Clinton Calls Disbarment 'Harsh, Unprecedented'

By Scott Hogenson | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Lawyers for President Clinton say disbarment is an "excessively harsh" penalty for lying under oath and they want a state court in Arkansas to let Clinton hold on to his license to practice law.

The argument was part of a response filed Tuesday afternoon with the Pulaski County Circuit Court, which must now decide whether Clinton should be disbarred for his conduct in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and his impeachment. The president's latest response to the complaint was four pages long and filed at 4:05 p.m. CDT, according to Pulaski Circuit Court records.

The "first defense" in the president's response claims that "a sanction of disbarment would be excessively harsh, impermissibly punitive, and unprecedented in the circumstances of this case," according to court documents. But the argument drew a sharp rebuttal from supporters of disbarment.

"We know that that argument is nonsense because disbarment is precisely the recommended sanction by the American Bar Association," said Mathew Glavin, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which filed the original complaint against Clinton in 1998.

Disbarment was also recommended by an ethics committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court, prompting Glavin to note, "both the American Bar Association and the Arkansas Supreme Court disagree with the president."

The state Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Conduct recommended disbarment proceedings on May 22, explaining that the committee's decision was based on "serious misconduct" by the president.

The complaint against Clinton accused him of lying under oath and obstructing justice during the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and his impeachment by the House of Representatives, and was first filed with the 14-member Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct. Eight members bowed out of the case, citing potential conflicts of interest, leaving only six panelists; five lawyers and a retired schoolteacher, to rule on Clinton.

Following the ethics committee's recommendation, the case moved to the Pulaski County Circuit Court in Little Rock. Should the circuit court rule against Clinton, the president could appeal that decision to the full Arkansas Supreme Court.

Clinton's disbarment drama includes a timeline of nearly two years and dates back to September 1998, when the SLF filed the initial complaint with the Arkansas Supreme Court. See Timeline of disbarment proceedings

A second complaint was filed after an April, 1999 ruling by US District Court Judge Susan Weber Wright, that found Clinton in contempt of court. The contempt finding, which was not appealed by the president, was forwarded to the state supreme court, resulting in the second complaint against Clinton.

If the circuit court rules against Clinton, he would be the first sitting president in American history to be disbarred for misconduct.