Clinton Faces Disbarment From Supreme Court

By Matt Pyeatt | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - Lawyers for former President Bill Clinton Friday will try to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court not to disbar their client, despite false statements he made about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Nearly a year after leaving office, Clinton is still hounded by his sex scandal with Lewinsky and the statements he made about that relationship while defending himself in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.

Now, Clinton faces possible disbarment from the highest court in the land. He was forced to surrender his law license and accept disbarment from Arkansas courts in January as part of a deal brokered through the Independent Counsel investigating the Jones-Lewinsky case.

The Supreme Court decided to seek Clinton's disbarment from the high court on Oct. 1 and gave Clinton's legal defense forty days to argue why he shouldn't be disbarred. The forty-day period ends Friday.

"On January 19, 2001, Bill Clinton became the first sitting U.S. president to surrender his law license and acknowledge lying under oath and obstruction of justice in an unprecedented 5-year suspension," according to the Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF).

The SLF filed the first formal disbarment complaint against Clinton with the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee in 1999.

Phil Kent, SLF president, said the Supreme Court routinely handles disbarments and Clinton is simply one name among many who face possible disbarment from the high court Friday. "His name was among 60 or 70 names of lawyers from the 50 states who had been suspended or disbarred," he said.

Kent believes the former president is being treated as though he was any other attorney guilty of lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

"I think they're treating everyone out of the same spoon because Rule IX of the Supreme Court says any time an attorney has their license suspended or they are disbarred, it automatically comes to the Supreme Court and then [the attorney is] disbarred," he said.

After disbarment from a state court, the Supreme Court must decide the fate of an attorney to practice law before the Supreme Court itself.

Todd Young, communications director for SLF, said the timing of the Supreme Court's decision is unknown but he assumes it will be soon. "The court could make its decision [Friday] or it could make it in the coming days or weeks, but these things move rather quickly," he said.

Calls to President Clinton's office in New York City were not returned Thursday, however, Clinton's lawyers released a statement addressing the case.

"On the basis of the relevant facts, the governing law and the applicable decisions of the Arkansas courts... a sanction of disbarment would be excessively harsh, impermissibly punitive and unprecedented in the circumstances of this case," Clinton's lawyers wrote.

Clinton's attorneys agree that the president was trying to save face when he lied to a federal grand jury while being questioned about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton "took actions motivated in part by a desire to protect himself and others from embarrassment," the lawyers wrote.

Kent believes Clinton's conduct does warrant his disbarment from the court and that his presidential legacy would likely be tainted by his actions. "It is obviously an embarrassing blemish. He would be the second president in United States history to be disbarred from the practice of law." Richard Nixon was stripped of his license by the state of New York after resigning from office, Kent said.

Young said the burden of proof is on Clinton and his attorneys to persuade the court that he does not deserve to be disbarred from the Supreme Court. "That is significant because in most proceedings we go into court with the burden on [our attorneys], not the party who is the defendant in the case," he said.

If Clinton is debarred from the Supreme Court, he could appeal the decision in the future.

"You can always apply again, but I don't know why he would, and I don't know why it would be granted," Kent said.