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District Court ready to release Clinton deposition

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ARKANSAS--In early October, a federal District Court in Little Rock held that it would release materials from Paula Jones' sexual…

ARKANSAS–In early October, a federal District Court in Little Rock held that it would release materials from Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton, including a transcript of Clinton’s deposition, on October 19, 1998.

The court noted that although Clinton initially objected to the court’s lifting the confidentiality order in the case, he had raised no objections after the court’s September decision to release materials. Among the materials to be released is the transcript of Clinton’s January 17 deposition, which is central to the impeachment inquiry approved by the House of Representatives. Mr. Clinton has been accused of lying in the deposition; he has said his answers were technically correct.

The court also held that the videotape of the deposition will remain under seal. The court stated, however, that it did not restrict members of the House Judiciary Committee from utilizing a copy of the tape in its impeachment inquiry, and Congress is free to disseminate the tape if it chooses to do so.

In late June, the court vacated a broad confidentiality order covering pretrial documents in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton. At that time, federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright unsealed the record with the exception of videotaped depositions and the identities of “any Jane Does” whose names appear in court documents. The judge also ruled that all videotapes of depositions taken in connection with the lawsuit shall remain under seal. Finally, the decision also permitted parties to make public statements, which were forbidden under the confidentiality order.

In early September, the President asked the court to reconsider its decision to partially unseal the record. The court agreed to review all of the files, and would periodically release materials that did not affect the parties’ right to a fair trial and did not adversely affect the privacy interests of any Jane Does. The court further stated that it would try to coordinate the release of documents so that any piece of information that might be detrimental to one side would be balanced with the release of similar documents about the other.

The court stated that it would release discovery materials in the parties’ possession which are not filed with the court, but nevertheless under seal, using the same test — as long as the materials did not affect the parties’ right to a fair trial and did not adversely affect the privacy interests of any Jane Does.

Wright imposed the original confidentiality order last October because of what she called “intense and often inaccurate media coverage” of the case. Wright said that secrecy was necessary to ensure the empaneling of a fair and impartial jury and to protect the privacy of third-party witnesses.

Numerous media organizations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, asked Wright to vacate the order and appealed when she declined to do so. Wright dismissed Jones’ lawsuit in April, after the media groups filed a notice of appeal but before the appeals court ruled on the matter.

The federal appeals court in St. Paul (8th Cir.) is scheduled to hear arguments to reinstate Jones’ case in late October. Lawyers for Jones and Clinton have reportedly discussed settling the case before the hearing. (Jones v. Clinton; Media Counsel: Robert Hoemeke, St. Louis)