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THE PAULA JONES CASE

Paula Jones Is Facing a Return to Obscurity

Reaction: She cried at news of ruling, her advisor says, and is now pondering an uncertain future.

April 02, 1998|CARLA HALL and DOUG SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Behind the gates of her beachfront apartment in Long Beach, Paula Corbin Jones received the news that she had suffered a brutal blow in her long fight against President Clinton, and then pondered her uncertain future.

Jones heard the early reports on the news like everyone else. But it fell to Susan Carpenter-McMillan, her friend, advisor and spokeswoman, to confirm that a federal judge in Arkansas had thrown her sexual harassment lawsuit out of court.

"When I got hold of her, she said 'Have you heard?' " recalled Carpenter-McMillan. "She said, 'Is it true?' and I said, 'Yes.' And she cried."

"She's disappointed," said Carpenter-McMillan, refusing to elaborate further on her emotional state. "She's very hurt."

But Carpenter-McMillan was willing to confess to her own emotional state. "I cried," she said as she talked with a reporter while driving in her cream-colored Mercedes sports car to a nearby 7-Eleven to pick up groceries for the Jones family. They had closeted themselves in their Long Beach condo and would not come out into the chilly afternoon to speak with reporters.

She parked hastily--she had 35 minutes between a press conference and a television interview--and went into the store to pick up orange juice, soda, milk, chocolate milk, popsicles, salsa and chips and sandwiches for Jones, her husband and their two children. There was a carton of cigarettes for Jones and two cigars for her husband, Stephen.

"I'm certainly not my cocky little self today," said Carpenter-McMillan, whose strongly worded verbal attacks on Clinton in past months made her a national talk-show figure.

That may have been because the question of the day--What does Jones do now?--is difficult for Carpenter-McMillan to answer. Endlessly she was asked, and repeatedly she said she hoped that Jones and her attorneys would appeal.

It's a question that even Paula Jones probably couldn't answer Wednesday.

Seldom has anyone gone from the obscurity of a minor Arkansas state job to such media attention so quickly.

And now, with the judge's decision going against her, she faces a return to that obscurity, complicated by an uncertain financial future.

"I think she will definitely appeal, but we have to get that clearance from the lawyers," said Carpenter-McMillan. "She has no hesitation about appealing, I can tell you that right now. From the bottom of my heart, I don't think this is over."

But even an appeal promises a period of limbo lasting months.

Decisions about the future loom before Jones, who became a national celebrity in 1994 when she aired charges that the president had propositioned her for oral sex in a hotel room in 1991, when he was Arkansas governor.

"She wants to live in Arkansas and raise her family," Carpenter-McMillan said. "She never wanted a career."

But Jones' husband, Stephen, wanted an acting career. That's one reason they moved to California. He now works as a ticket counter agent at Los Angeles International Airport.

"Well, they're out here now. And they'll eventually go back there," Carpenter-McMillan said. "And that was kind of always the agreement."

But she would be returning to a state where some neighbors might not welcome her with great enthusiasm.

According to recent news stories, Jones' fellow Arkansans are weary of the Jones media show, and one of her sisters is downright accusatory of her motives.

"Everybody supports her 110% except for that dead sister of hers," said Carpenter-McMillan, lashing out at the sister, who actually is very much alive. "The whole family is just destroyed by this."

It's long been speculated that Jones might be in the market for book, movie and television deals.

"Regardless of what everybody said, we've never sought books or movie deals," said Carpenter-McMillan on Wednesday. "She's never been in for the money. Nobody understood that or believed it."

Jones was a former low-level employee for the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission ("rank-and-file," as her suit states) who had moved to a modest one-bedroom apartment in Long Beach with her husband and first child when she was vaulted onto the public stage with her accusations against the president.

Her civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Ark., in May 1994, sought damages for "willful, outrageous and malicious conduct." The suit obsessed the nation and triggered further questioning of women in Clinton's past.

And from then on, her life as an anonymous citizen was over.

Her life became a changing parade of lawyers, conservative activists and prying reporters. Her personal life was scrutinized, her motives were questioned in all corners and her gawky features became the subject of countless late night comedy routines.

Even the couple's taxes became the subject of an audit--and an investigation of that audit was announced by the inspector general of the Treasury Department last January.

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