When Danny Traylor saw what he was up against, he quickly decided he needed help.
The proprietor of a one-man Little Rock, Ark., law office whose staff consists of an answering machine and a shared secretary, Traylor figured that his client, Paula Corbin Jones, was going to need more legal ammunition than he could muster for her suit against the President of the United States.
And when he heard President Clinton had retained famed white-collar defense attorney Robert S. Bennett to defend him against Jones’ sexual harassment charges, Traylor put out a call for help.
“As soon as the media reported that Bennett was on board, I had probably a dozen offers of help,” Traylor said recently.
The first call, he said, was from Gilbert K. Davis, a trial attorney with some government experience who had dabbled in state and national Republican Party politics.
Traylor said he looked into Davis’ background and was satisfied that he had sufficient trial experience to handle the case and wasn’t driven by a political vendetta against the Democratic President.
Davis took over the case a week before it was filed in federal court on May 6. Traylor is now merely “local counsel” in Little Rock, with no day-to-day involvement in the suit.
The Traylor-Davis handoff marked a major escalation in the case and touched off speculation that Davis was a front man for right-wing outfits bent on bringing down the Clinton presidency. All involved deny that the suit is politically inspired, but Davis’ GOP ties (he worked for the presidential campaigns of Howard Baker and George Bush) and offers of financial aid from conservative religious groups have fueled speculation about the enterprise’s ideology.
Davis, 51, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia, and his chief associate, Joseph L. Cammarata, 35, who served for four years in the Justice Department’s tax division, won’t say how they heard that Traylor was seeking assistance.
But Jones’ complaint against Clinton had been a cause celebre in conservative circles since she first leveled her charges against the President at a conservative forum in Washington in February.
Jones, 27, said that in May, 1991--when she was a low-level state clerical worker--Clinton ordered his state police bodyguard, Danny Ferguson, to escort her to the then-governor’s Little Rock hotel suite during a state-sponsored management conference.
Jones contends Clinton then made a crude pass at her and asked her to perform oral sex. She refused and fled the room, she said.
Patrick J. Mahoney, leader of a militant anti-abortion group, said that after hearing Jones’ story, he tried to enlist a number of conservative and feminist groups on Jones’ behalf. He contacted Traylor and offered to put him in touch with a number of high-powered lawyers, including the media-savvy Ellis Rubin of Miami.
Mahoney also said he tried to arrange a conference call among Traylor, Jones and Patricia Ireland, director of the National Organization for Women, to seek NOW’s involvement in Jones’ sexual harassment case.
Ireland declined to take up Jones’ cause, saying only that her organization would monitor the case.
The conservative Landmark Legal Foundation of Kansas City also sought to find lawyers to represent Jones after deciding it did not have the resources to pursue the case itself.
Enter Davis and Cammarata, who say they have no ideological interest in the matter but only want to ensure Jones gets the best legal representation available.
Cammarata, in a recent interview, said that “no organizations or groups brought us in,” although he did not rule out accepting donations from Mahoney’s Christian Defense Coalition or other conservative groups.
He said that he and Davis were exploring the creation of their own defense fund for Jones, anticipating that her legal bills will exceed $100,000 as they do battle with Bennett and the White House.
The White House, too, is thinking of creating a legal defense fund, to help Clinton defray the costs not only of the Jones suit but of the broader Whitewater investigation.
With Bennett and his associates billing $475 an hour and Whitewater lawyer David Kendall and his team charging a similar amount, Clinton’s legal bills could easily reach $1 million.
Bennett is planning a multi-front war against Jones and her attorneys, perhaps beginning with a constitutional argument that a sitting President is immune to civil damage suits. Resolving that question could take a year or longer, Bennett believes.
Bennett is also likely to argue that the Civil War-era civil rights statutes under which Jones sued Clinton are not applicable and will also seek to limit discovery depositions from witnesses who claim to have experienced similar behavior from Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.