LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, filed an unprecedented lawsuit Friday seeking $700,000 in damages from President Clinton, whom she accused of making sexual advances in 1991 while he was governor of Arkansas.
Speaking for the President, attorney Robert S. Bennett denied the allegations detailed in the suit and dismissed them as "tabloid trash." He told a news conference in Washington: "Quite simply, the incident did not occur."
Clinton declined comment.
The suit was said to be the first ever filed against a sitting President for personal conduct alleged to have occurred before he was elected. Under legal precedent, presidents are largely immune from suits stemming from acts committed while in office, but there is no precedent governing suits like that filed by Jones.
Even though the suit faces many tough legal hurdles, its graphic description of the alleged encounter between Jones and Clinton is virtually certain to embarrass the President and to bolster efforts by some Republicans to smear his reputation. Both the filing and Bennett's response drew hordes of reporters from news organizations across the country and around the world.
Jones, who said she rebuffed Clinton's advances, is believed to be getting legal and financial assistance from conservative Republican groups with whom she has allied herself in the past. But her attorneys, Gilbert K. Davis and Joseph Cammaratta of Fairfax, Va., declined to say how they were hired or who would pay their legal fees.
The President's defenders--and even Jones' sister, Charlotte Brown--have portrayed her as a gold-digger whose chief purpose is to profit financially from her story.
"This suit is about publicity, it's about talk shows, it's about money, and I understand from recent press reports (that) potential book contract profits have been divvied up," Bennett said.
Jones pledged in a statement read to the news media by her lawyers that she would donate all proceeds from the case to charity. Jones, who now lives in California, made no public appearance Friday.
"This case is not about money," Jones said in the statement. "This case is about character and integrity."
Named as a co-defendant in the suit is Danny Ferguson, a former Arkansas state trooper and Clinton bodyguard whom Jones claims persuaded her to go to a hotel room on May 8, 1991, where she met the then-governor.
Jones was then a $6.35-an-hour employee of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and was working at the registration desk at a commission convention at the time she claims to have met Clinton. Because Clinton, as governor, was technically the chief executive of the commission, she argues that his alleged overtures constituted sexual harassment.
But because the statute of limitations for a sexual-harassment complaint has long since passed, her suit makes a broader claim that may be more difficult to prove: that Clinton violated her civil rights. She also alleges conspiracy, emotional distress and defamation of character.
In lurid detail, Jones claims in her lawsuit that she was persuaded by Ferguson to go to the governor's hotel suite, where Clinton admired her hair and "curves" and tried to put his hand under her clothing and kiss her.
Jones escaped his grasp initially, she said, and sat down on a sofa in the room. He then moved to her side, she claimed, lowered his trousers and underwear and asked for oral sex.
When Jones rebuffed him again, according to the suit, Clinton replied: "Well, I don't want to make you do anything you don't want to do." He then allegedly asked her not to tell anyone what had happened, saying: "You are smart. Let's keep this between ourselves."
The lawsuit contends that Jones can describe identifying characteristics on Clinton's body, presumably to help her prove her claim.
Jones contended that she shared her recollections of the incident with friends and relatives but made no official complaint, fearing that she could lose her job.
Under federal law, she could have filed a sexual-harassment complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 180 days of the alleged incident.
Despite her decision not to pursue a legal complaint, she said, she was subsequently placed in a position at the commission that deprived her of advancement, and she said she felt threatened whenever she saw the governor and Ferguson. She concluded that her refusal to surrender to Clinton's advances had made her a target of discrimination.
Still, Jones said, she did not decide to pursue her complaint until she read an article in the January issue of American Spectator magazine, a conservative journal, saying that a woman named "Paula" who was once escorted to Clinton's hotel room by Ferguson told the trooper that "she was available to be Clinton's regular girlfriend."
At that point, Jones said in her suit, she decided to discuss the matter publicly to make it clear that she had resisted the alleged advance.