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Other Federal Workers Pay High Price for Perjury

Courts: Two who lied about affairs are fired. One of them goes to prison; the other loses medical license.

October 23, 1998|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Diane Parker did what President Clinton is accused of doing.

As a U.S. postal supervisor in Florida, she had sex with a subordinate, lied about it and got caught. As a result, she lost her job, was tried and convicted, and now is serving 13 months in a federal prison.

Barbara Battalino had sex with a patient in her Veterans Affairs office in Idaho. She lied about it and was caught and she lost her job and medical license. Prosecuted, she pleaded guilty and was fined $3,500. Today she is serving a six-month home-detention sentence.

Parker and Battalino are but two of 115 people now serving time for committing perjury in federal court proceedings--the same charge that has brought President Clinton to the brink of impeachment.

And they are now unwitting exhibits in the huge political battle in Washington over how severely Clinton should be punished. While his defenders argue that the presidency is too high a price to pay for what boils down to lying about sex, some Republican lawmakers insist that Clinton should be treated no less harshly than others charged with perjury.

Those 115 cases offer no clear lesson on whether a double standard exists, and the investigation that could remove Clinton from office has just begun.

More Serious Charges at Start

But the vast majority of the cases began with more serious charges that were dropped when the defendants pleaded guilty to reduced charges of perjury.

In cases in which the primary charge is perjury, as with Clinton's alleged lying in a legal deposition and before a federal grand jury about his affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, the punishment of rank-and-file government employees can be quite severe.

U.S. District Judge Lacey A. Collier in Panama City, Fla., clearly had the president in mind in July when he sent Parker to prison for lying in a civil suit about having sexual relations with a Postal Service subordinate.

Parker had been a model citizen. She was active in a local community group, had attended college and served in the military. Except for a traffic ticket some years back, she had never been in trouble before. But Collier, a Bush appointee, let it be known that perjury is no minor infraction.

"I must say, Ms. Parker, that one of the most troubling things in our society today is people who raise their hands, take an oath to tell the truth and then fail to do that," he said.

"An analogy might be made to termites that get inside your house," he continued. "Nobody sees it, nobody knows about it until the house collapses around you.

"And that's the seriousness of the destruction of . . . our system of justice, our entire society for that matter. . . .

"And it goes all the way to the highest levels of our government."

The 115 federal perjury cases first surfaced when Republican lawmakers used them as an argument for opening an impeachment investigation of Clinton. It is not known how many of these cases might have similarities to the president's.

Allegations for Impeachment Inquiry

"If we leave the president alone if he committed these crimes, then we have undermined our Constitution and we have undermined our system of justice," Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) said on the House floor recently as he urged that an impeachment inquiry be opened.

McCollum obtained the number from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which declined to provide information about specific cases. Information about the Parker and Battalino cases was obtained by The Times from law enforcement sources.

At the U.S. Justice Department, Stewart Smith, an official in the Office of Justice Programs, said it can be very difficult to compare one case to another.

He recalled a recent incident in which a National Institute of Justice secretary was suspended for two weeks for lying about a personal telephone call while at work--a punishment he said that seems out of line when compared to the allegations of FBI crime lab agents doctoring reports and lying on the witness stand about their findings.

More than a year after the Justice Department's inspector general found widespread abuses at the crime lab, there have been no firings, prosecutions and no prison time. Of the 11 lab employees who were criticized, two have received letters of censure.

"There are different standards according to different agencies and different people," said Smith, who also is a local union leader.

Citing the FBI lab, he added: "It shows you the vast disparity of the things that go on around the government."

The Parker and Battalino cases are similar and appear basically to parallel the case against Clinton. But they too ended with different results.

Patient Suffered From Stress Disorder

Battalino was a VA psychiatrist when she first met Ed Arthur, a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and she counseled him on several occasions at the VA Medical Center in Boise, Idaho.

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