Little Rock. Ark. President Clinton's privilege to practice law in his home state may hinge on how well his lawyers make a case for treating the country's chief executive like anyone else.
A committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court filed suit Friday seeking Clinton's disbarment, saying he gave misleading testimony under oath about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The lawsuit followed a May 19 vote by the state Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct to strip Clinton of his law license for violating procedures governing attorneys' ethical behavior.
The panel announced its decision May 22. Clinton said at the time that he was being treated too harshly.
The White House issued a statement Friday in which Clinton lawyer David Kendall said he disagreed with the complaint and would vigorously defend Clinton against it.
"The primary thing that he'll be relying on is that there isn't much precedent in Arkansas for disbarring people for that kind of conduct," said Peter Joy, a professor of legal ethics at Washington University in St. Louis.
Normally, Joy said, lawyers are disbarred after felony convictions or for actions that directly affect a client.
"In this instance, while everybody knows that President Clinton was less than truthful in the deposition, he hasn't been charged with any crime and the sanction from the district court was a monetary one that has been paid," he said.
"His lawyers are going to be saying there's no precedent for proceeding with disbarment," Joy said, "that it's a denial of his due process, that ... you're not treating the president like any other lawyer in the state and that when it comes to being a lawyer in Arkansas, he should be treated like anyone else."
Joy said he could not speculate how effective such a defense would be before a circuit judge or, ultimately, the state's high court.
While lower courts have reversed the panel's ruling, only once since 1929 has the state Supreme Court overturned its committee's recommendations.
Clinton has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit. In most of the private legal battles during his presidency, Clinton fought to delay proceedings until after he leaves office.