Clinton Accuser Shuns Spotlight : Courts: Long Beach neighborhood is abuzz over sightings of Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state government worker who has taken the President to court, alleging sexual harassment.
For Paula Jones, a beachside apartment in Long Beach has become a self-imposed fortress, a place whose locked gates keep prying eyes away from the woman who has sued the President of the United States.
The voice with a syrupy Southern drawl came over the intercom of the apartment complex.
“I have nothing to say,” said the voice from the box. “I can’t say anything. You’ll have to talk to my lawyer.”
The woman behind the voice, despite her efforts at keeping a low profile, has not escaped the attention of neighbors and others titillated to have in their midst the central figure in the country’s latest political morality play.
There was a Paula sighting at the Vons supermarket in nearby Belmont Shore earlier this week, where a checker saw her and made a positive I.D. when she heard her Southern accent. A manager brought over a copy of People magazine (Jones is on the cover) to double-check.
Barney Berlyn, a resident of Jones’ apartment complex--a modern, multistory building with a magnificent view of the Queen Mary--said photographers with long lenses have now become a part of the landscape.
“We see all sorts of strange people looking around,” added Ed Von Borstel, a chiropractor who lives in the apartment building just across the street.
Neighbors ask if it is really That Paula Jones--transplanted from Arkansas and living in Long Beach with her husband, son and pet pit bull.
Jones’ husband, Steve, an aspiring actor and ticket agent for Northwest Airlines, paused briefly Thursday, after a long morning of helping check in hundreds of passengers bound for South Korea and Guam, and offered the following assessment of his home life these days:
“It’s like living in a fish bowl. We even had a reporter on the roof. It’s a real pain. This has been very painful for Paula.
“All we want is for Paula to have her day in court,” he continued. “It’s not about money. If you think it’s about money, take a look at my bank account. It’s black and white. It’s a sexual harassment case. That’s all.”
Well, not exactly. Suing the President brings with it a certain amount of attention.
One recent poll said that 90% of the American public knows Jones has charged Clinton with making sexual advances. Unfortunately for her, though, another poll shows only 15% of the population believes her.
For the small percentage of the populace that is out of the loop, here is a quick summary: Jones says that Clinton, while governor of Arkansas in May, 1991, invited her into a hotel room and asked her to perform oral sex. The White House says the encounter never happened and suggests that Jones, who was a state employee at the time of the alleged incident, is out for money.
At the time, Paula Jones was Paula Corbin, an obscure $10,527-a-year employee of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission. In all probability, she would have remained an unknown had not she filed a $700,000 civil rights lawsuit against Clinton on May 6, alleging sexual harassment. In short order, People magazine came knocking at her door, as did the tabloids. But her lawyers have counseled that now is not the time to talk. That will come later, in court, they say.
“These people are being upset and their privacy is being invaded,” said one of her lawyers, Joseph L. Cammarata of Fairfax, Va. “It’s just not our practice to have a litigant talking to anyone.”
Jones may not be talking now, but that has not always been the case for this 27-year-old former secretary and mother of a 21-month-old son named Madison.
On Feb. 11, for instance, she stood beside her lawyer at a Washington news conference and charged that Clinton had asked for “a type of sex.” At the time, she said she was only asking for an apology.
There was, too, the April 29 appearance on televangelist Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, when she left nothing to the imagination in her version of what Clinton allegedly did in the hotel room.
If a job history is any indicator, the world of Paula Jones was not terribly exciting before she filed her suit. When she quit her Arkansas state position Feb. 22, 1993, just short of two years from the time she was hired, it was the longest stint by far on her resume.
According to the personnel information provided by the Industrial Development Commission, she worked as a secretary for a number of businesses, none of them for more than a year. She also attended secretarial school for six months after graduating from high school in 1984 in the tiny Arkansas town of Carlisle.
She quit her job, presumably because her husband was transferred to Los Angeles by Northwest Airlines last year. Cammarata, her lawyer, said Jones was not employed in California, but was instead caring for her son at home.
Paula Jones moved into the spotlight early this year. Though she said nothing during Clinton’s 1992 campaign, she claimed she recognized herself in an article published in January in the conservative American Spectator. The article quoted a state trooper as saying a woman named Paula spent about an hour with Clinton at Little Rock’s Excelsior Hotel and then volunteered to be the then-governor’s girlfriend. Jones, who was engaged to be married at the time of the alleged incident, said the trooper’s statement was not true and that she needed to set the record straight to protect her reputation.
She spent her formative years in the tiny town of Lonoke, Ark., about 35 miles east of Little Rock. Lonoke Mayor Jack Wheat remembers Jones’ parents as “hard working, religious, salt of the earth” people who were also very strict with their children and strict in their Nazarene beliefs, which included a ban on television in the house. And he said he remembered the three Corbin sisters coming to town wearing smocks and bonnets when they were young girls.
“Their dad died some years back,” Wheat said. “Then the house caught on fire. It wasn’t economically feasible to restore it, so they sold the property.”
Wheat said he lost track of the Corbins until the lawsuit was filed.
That suit has divided the Corbin family, with one side saying they believe her, the other saying they do not.
“I don’t understand why Paula has let other people influence her like she has,” said Mark Brown, her brother-in-law. “This is going to tear her mother up.
“It’s really sad,” he said. “I’m sorry my sister-in-law made those accusations. I know my sister-in-law really well and this is the wrong way to make money, very wrong.”
Jones’ sister, Charlotte Brown, said much the same thing.
“I’ve talked and told it until I can’t sleep at night,” said Charlotte Brown. “It’s very stressful.”
A telephone call to other family members who support Jones elicited a polite but firm “no comment.”
Among old colleagues in state government, some did not remember Jones and others declined to discuss her.
One who does recall her is Mike Gauldin, who was Clinton’s press secretary in Little Rock and is now a spokesman for the Department of Energy in Washington. He said she once worked as a courier, and would hang around the governor’s outer office talking with the secretaries.
“Paula spent quite a bit of time by the reception desk gossiping,” Gauldin said. “I thought she worked for a private (delivery) service. They talked about inane things, beauty shop kind of stuff.”
In Long Beach, as elsewhere, Jones is suddenly under the microscope. One neighbor claims to have heard “angry voices” coming from her apartment.
Another voiced skepticism about her motive. “If she actually gives all the money to charity, then I believe her,” said the neighbor. “If it turns out she just wants the money, then who knows?”
One who puts in a good word is Mike Ojeda, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent who showed the Joneses the beachfront apartment that they eventually moved into six months ago.
“They were a very nice couple,” he said.
“They were just out looking for someplace to live,” Ojeda said. “They’d been living in the Valley and they moved down here to cut costs.
“They just came in one day when there was an open house and they asked if we had any leases. They liked it and they’ve been good tenants.”
He said that when he saw Jones on television, she looked familiar and at first he thought it was a woman he saw periodically working at a pizza shop.
“Then it finally hit me,” he said. “I leased out a place to that woman.”