Letters on Jones Case Speak Volumes
Three years ago, long before she created the political firestorm that will forever mark her name, this one-page, badly written letter landed on the desk of U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright.
“Dear Sir,” the letter began, assuming the judge was a man.
“Why you will cover up President?” the writer demanded. “The American people want that man. How much money you get for the cover up? He is a THIEF and a CROOKED man. The American people have the right to bring this TODAY to court.”
The judge stapled the letter to the envelope and filed it inside a folder in the case stamped LR-C-94-290. That case is--or was--the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment suit against President Clinton. Last week, Wright dismissed the lawsuit, which had been set for trial in May.
The case file covers a dozen volumes. Several of those folders, what Wright calls her “correspondence file,” are a measure of the intense pressure she faced from a sometimes admiring, other times vitriolic American public since the suit was filed in 1994.
Some of the letters were from women, encouraging her to stand up for their rights, stressing their fear of a setback in equal rights should she rule in favor of Clinton.
Others urged caution, emphasizing the historic and constitutional questions she faced, imploring her not to destroy the sanctity of the presidency.
And, of course, there were the odd letters, some from prisoners pulling her name out of a newspaper story and asking for help, some from writers obviously mentally disturbed.
“She read each letter,” said James McCormack, chief clerk of the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Jones had claimed that Clinton, while governor of Arkansas, lured her into a hotel room, groped her, exposed himself and asked for oral sex. Jones alleged that her career as a low-level state clerk was ruined by Clinton and others bent on revenge because she thwarted his alleged advances.
In her ruling, Wright termed the behavior alleged by Jones “boorish and offensive.” But she also found that even if it were true, it did not rise to the level of sexual assault. And even if it did, Wright concluded, Jones was never harassed in her job.
What follows is what the public, at least some of those moved to pen their thoughts, felt important enough to tell the judge.
Some, like Mrs. C. Dunlap of Ohio, drew parallels between the case and other societal problems.
“I am so fed up with what is going on in the U.S.,” Dunlap wrote. “Murderers benefiting, and Michael Fay may make $1,000,000 for getting his bottom tanned. Instead of a punishment, he’s getting rewarded.” She was referring to a young American who was a hot topic in 1994 when he was caned in Singapore for spray-painting cars.
“Aside from all that, President Clinton needs our support and respect,” she continued. “Instead we get this Jones person accusing him. Please dismiss this, and please see if you can do anything about the other thing.”
Another “concerned citizen” had the prescience to predict that this “already dead lawsuit will be ready for a coffin.” The writer said that if Clinton had wanted to hurt Jones, he would have fired her when he was governor. The writer then urged Wright to do the “only credible thing for a credible court and throw the case out.”
With the case seen as one significant for its impact on women’s rights, a woman who identified herself as working for a Baptist missionary emphasized to Wright that Jones was “violated” in that hotel room, regardless of whether Clinton touched her or not.
“How can we know which leaders really care about a woman’s rights?” she wrote. “These guys . . . still see women as vehicles for their sexual appetites. When are we going to say to men that they need to control their reaction to short skirts and beautiful faces? The key is . . . CONTROL.”
Milton H. Lindsey of Austin, Texas, sent along a newspaper clipping about John F. Kennedy being sued for a traffic accident after he loaned his car to a group of delegates during the 1960 Democratic convention. Lindsey listed the name of the suit, the date and the judge it was assigned to in Los Angeles. “Thought it would be of interest to you,” he added.
Betty Bland of Modesto sent a photo of a smiling Clinton on his way to a fund-raiser in California. She urged that the president be tried for his alleged sins. “Does this man look like he is so consumed with the problems of our country? I feel he should be treated like anybody else.”
Robert L. Hightower, no address listed, also urged that the case go to trial. “Let us not try to fool the public. We are not dummies. Peasants perhaps, but not stupid.”