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Fill-in gave to Clinton, will recuse

By MICHAEL ROWETT

This article was published February 18, 2000 at 5:46 a.m.

— A member of the Arkansas Supreme Court Alternate Committee on Professional Conduct who contributed $1,500 to President Clinton's presidential campaigns has recused from a review of ethics complaints that seek to revoke Clinton's law license.

Dick Hatfield of Little Rock, a lawyer and a member of the alternate committee, announced Thursday his decision to recuse. Hatfield could have been called to replace a member of the Committee on Professional Conduct in considering the complaint against Clinton if a member of the regular committee recused or was otherwise unavailable.

Hatfield this month told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that he didn't think his contributions to Clinton's 1992 and 1996 campaigns and to other Democratic causes would affect his ability to impartially decide on a complaint involving the president.

But he said Thursday that he changed his mind to make sure no one questions the committee's impartiality. He said he told committee officials Monday that he will recuse from "any matters involving complaints filed against William Jefferson Clinton."

Hatfield said the committee's findings must reflect fairness in the eyes of Arkansans. Serving on the Clinton matter "could be perceived as partial and unfair," he said.

"This decision is made with my firm conviction that I could properly uphold and discharge my duties as a committee member," he said. "Yet I believe as to my participation that the committee process as it relates to William Jefferson Clinton could be perceived as tainted."

James A. Neal of Little Rock, executive director of the committee, declined to comment when asked if any other members of the regular or alternate committees had recused.

A review of federal campaign contribution databases by the Democrat-Gazette showed that Hatfield in 1992-98 contributed $10,250 to the Democratic Party of Arkansas and Democratic candidates. His contributions included $500 to Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and $1,000 to his 1996 re-election campaign.

Contribution data show three members of the regular professional committee -- Richard Reid of Blytheville, Bart Virden of Morrilton and Dr. Patricia Youngdahl of Little Rock -- have given to the Democratic Party of Arkansas or to Democratic candidates.

Alternate Committee Chairman David Solomon of Helena contributed $1,000 to Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and $2,250 to other Democratic candidates over 10 years.

No donations to Republican candidates or the Republican Party were listed for any of the 14 members of the regular or alternate committees.

Reid said Thursday that his $700 worth of donations to a Democratic congressional candidate and the state Democratic Party would not affect his ability to impartially decide a case before the committee that involves Clinton.

Reid added that he also has contributed to GOP candidates in the past, but in amounts less than $200. Federal campaign contribution databases report contributions of $200 or more.

Solomon and Virden, who contributed $625 to Democratic candidates, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. They previously told the Democrat-Gazette that their contributions would have no impact on their objectivity if Clinton's case came before them.

Youngdahl, who previously did not return messages seeking comment on her $1,925 in contributions to Democrats, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

An ethics complaint against Clinton originally was filed in September 1998 by the Southeastern Legal Foundation of Atlanta and L. Lynn Hogue, an Arkansas-licensed lawyer who is chairman of its legal advisory board. That complaint asked the committee to disbar Clinton. The committee modified the complaint and this month formally sent it to the president, who has 30 days after receiving it to respond to the allegations.

The complaint accuses Clinton of violating a rule that forbids Arkansas lawyers from engaging in deceit and another that forbids conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. The complaint offers as evidence statements in Clinton's testimony before a federal grand jury working with former independent counsel Kenneth Starr; a deposition the president gave in the sexual harassment lawsuit Paula Corbin Jones filed against him; and remarks Clinton made to White House employees.

The seven-member committee regulates the conduct of the state's licensed lawyers. Committee members would vote on any sanctions against Clinton, up to and including disbarment.

Members of the alternate committee serve individually or collectively when members of the regular committee recuse themselves or are otherwise unavailable.

The foundation says it is a conservative public-interest law firm. Hogue is a law professor at Georgia State University and a former law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law.

Foundation President Matthew Glavin said Thursday that one of the bases for the foundation's complaint can be found in a Nov. 19, 1998, Arkansas Supreme Court decision in Randall Mark Shocet v. Arkansas Board of Law Examiners.

The court upheld the board ruling that denied Shocet's admittance to the Arkansas bar. The high court said Shocet had been "less than candid" on his application. The justices said in the ruling that "there simply is no place in the law for a man or woman who cannot or will not tell the truth, even when his or her own conduct is involved."

"Honesty and truthfulness are not aspirational goals," Glavin said. "They are the bare minimum standards, and it doesn't make any difference whether the case involves an applicant or a licensed lawyer."

Clinton, a former law professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville, has been licensed to practice law in his home state since Sept. 7, 1973, although he has not done so in many years.

During a news conference Wednesday at the White House, Clinton responded to a reporter's question about the complaint by saying he didn't think he ought to be spending his time on the issue.

Glavin said last week that a lawyer for the professional conduct committee told him the committee intended to serve Clinton with two formal complaints.

The source for a second complaint might be an April 1999 referral to the committee from Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright. An April 12, 1999, memorandum opinion and order from Wright found Clinton in civil contempt of court for giving "intentionally false" testimony in the Jones case during his Jan. 17, 1998, deposition about his relationship with Lewinsky. Wright fined Clinton $90,686. Clinton didn't challenge the ruling and paid the fine. Wright on April 13, 1999, referred her opinion and order to Neal for review and any "action you deem appropriate."

Wright's office received a written submission on Feb. 10 from the committee about the Clinton referral, but Wright doesn't intend to divulge its contents, her law clerk said.

A complaint against Clinton also has been filed with the committee by Jim Parsons of Bella Vista, head of a Christian education group and occasional critic of the president.

Copyright © 2000, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.

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