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Paula Jones Gets $1-Million Nudge in Suit

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton edged closer to settlement Saturday when Paula Corbin Jones stepped before television cameras to accept a $1-million check from New York real estate mogul Abe Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld said the check, which was made out to Jones as well as her current and former lawyers, should help both sides complete negotiations within a matter of days.

Others were less certain.

Harvard Hollenberg, Hirschfeld’s longtime attorney who stood beside his client at the Mayflower Hotel ceremony, cautioned reporters that “there are several steps to go,” but he would not elaborate on them. He said actual transfer of the funds would await final settlement of the 4-year-old suit by lawyers for Clinton and Jones, but he specified no deadline.

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Jones, who lives in Long Beach with her husband and two small children, exchanged kisses on the cheek with the grandfatherly Hirschfeld and said: “I want to thank you for your very generous offer.”

Hirschfeld, a onetime Democratic activist who has a reputation for eccentricity, stressed that he has no personal interest in the lawsuit and had never spoken with Jones before.

He said he simply wanted to end the case “so the president will have a clear head and be able to function in carrying out the nation’s business.” Asked why he made this move three days before the midterm elections, Hirschfeld replied: “I would like to have done it six months earlier.”

Clinton’s lawyers have shied away from any cash settlement of the suit in which the erratic Hirschfeld plays a major role, largely because he is under indictment on 123 counts of income tax fraud. His $1-million offer could be seen as an attempt to gain favor with the Clinton administration to solve his tax troubles, sources close to Clinton have said.

One legal source said the latest move, however, may be an effort by Jones’ lawyers to make Hirschfeld’s contribution a “done deal” separate from any subsequent payment by Clinton to settle the dispute.

Robert S. Bennett, Clinton’s chief attorney in the Jones case, has so far offered $700,000 toward settlement. He said he had nothing to do with Hirschfeld’s latest move and did not know about it.

Bennett said he doubts a settlement is near, adding: “I’m going to approach this very cautiously.”

James A. Fisher, a member of Jones’ Dallas-based legal team, was present to observe the check transfer but declined comment when asked what role, if any, he played or whether he expects a settlement soon.

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Competing claims for legal fees from Jones’ current and former lawyers have further complicated resolution of the case. Washington lawyers Joseph Cammarata and Gilbert K. Davis, who represented Jones until she fired them a year ago, have filed court papers seeking $800,000 in past legal bills. Fisher and his firm have amassed $1.5 million in legal expenses in the last 13 months.

Jones alleged in her 1994 lawsuit that Clinton, while Arkansas governor, summoned her to his hotel room in 1991, exposed himself and asked her for oral sex, which she said she refused. A federal judge in Little Rock dismissed the suit in April, but a federal appeals court is studying whether to reinstate it.

Hirschfeld, 78, who once said his $1-million contribution was contingent upon Jones getting all of the money, said Saturday he trusted the lawyers to work out “the garbage paperwork” and agree on a split with Jones.

Susan Carpenter-McMillan, Jones’ close friend and spokeswoman, said she is optimistic Hirschfeld’s payment will lead to a settlement both sides can accept. Carpenter-McMillan said she believes her husband, Bill, a Pasadena attorney, can mediate a fair division of settlement funds between Jones and all of her lawyers.

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