Jewish World Review August 23, 1999 /11 Elul, 5759
Clinton has been honored again. On Aug. 9 he was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association, in Atlanta.
The day before, on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," Tim Russert, referring to "the first president of the United States to be held in contempt of court," read from Federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright's decision to fine the president $90,000 for violating "this court's orders by giving false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process."
She emphasized that "sanctions must be imposed not only to redress the misconduct of the president in this case, but to deter others who might themselves consider emulating the president of the United States by engaging in misconduct that undermines the integrity of the judicial system."
It is hardly a deterrent to potential emulators of the president in this regard that he has risen to applause before the nation's arbiter of legal ethics.
I asked the ABA why this prized invitation was extended to Clinton. Its president, Philip Anderson, replied:
Now we have the ABA, which drafted the Code of Professional Responsibility, which has been adopted by the courts in nearly every state. The code mandates that "lawyers maintain the highest standard of ethical conduct" and "shall not... engage in conduct involving dishonesty... deceit or misrepresentation" and cannot "engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice."
Walpin quotes a justice of the Arizona Supreme Court who, in 1982, called for the disbarment -- rather than a one-year suspension -- of former U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. The reason: "Of all the offenses which a lawyer can commit, untruthfulness in judicial proceedings is one of the most egregious." The justice added that "Lawyers are required to be truthful in their practice (even) when not under oath. It is even worse when a man who has been attorney general of the United States, and whose conduct should therefore be an example to the public and all other lawyers, commits these violations."
Is there a lesser standard for the president?
The ABA Journal's Daily Report noted that at the annual meeting in Atlanta another noted speaker was "Webster Hubbell... Once the No. 3 official in the Justice Department, he later spent 18 months in prison for defrauding its law partners."
Hubbell appeared on a program titled "Life as a Target." Did Mr. Hubbell sign autographs?
Paul Goodman's class on integrity in the professions was not well-attended. But he took comfort in the lawyers he knew who kept fighting against institutional odds for simple justice -- while not obstructing it.