Clinton Law License: Public Accountability and Rule of Law

LITTLE ROCK, ARK/WASHINGTON, DC: President Bill Clinton holds the distinction as the only sitting President to lose his law license, following a complaint filed by Southeastern Legal Foundation to the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct.

The three-year effort to hold the nation's highest law enforcement officer professionally accountable for lying under oath and obstructing justice in a civil case (the Paula Jones litigation) demonstrates the critical importance of both accountability and affirming the public's confidence in our system of justice - two critical elements in the rules governing the practice of law. As noted throughout the proceedings, the standards are even higher for those in government positions of authority.

Consider the following timeline of events:


SLF files the first legal ethics complaint against attorney Bill Clinton with the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct, alleging lying under oath and obstruction of justice in the Paula Jones legal matter.


In December, SLF files a petition with the Arkansas Supreme Court, asking the court to order the state’s legal ethics committee to proceed with consideration of its complaint against attorney Clinton, which laid dormant for a year, despite the referral from U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright finding that Clinton lied under oath and obstructed justice.


In January, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously orders the state's legal ethics committee to proceed with SLF's complaint against Clinton. The committee serves the White House with two formal complaints in February. In March, on the deadline day for responding to the formal legal ethics complaints, Clinton requests a year-long extension until he has left office, which the Arkansas committee rejects and instead orders Clinton to formally respond by April 21. In May, the Committee votes to initiate disbarment proceedings against Clinton, marking the first time in U.S. history that a sitting President faces court action which may result in the loss of the license to practice law. In June, the Committee’s appointed prosecutor files formal disbarment action against Clinton in Pulaski County, Arkansas Circuit Court.


In January, Bill Clinton becomes the first sitting U.S. President to lose his law license as a result of a formal bar complaint. Based on SLF's complaint and the contempt citation issued by federal district court Judge Susan Webber Wright, Clinton signs an agreed order of discipline with Independent Counsel Robert Ray and Arkansas authorities suspending his license for five years (a period of time tantamount to disbarment). This action, taken the day before Clinton leaves office on January 19, is the only significant penalty faced by Clinton apart from U.S. House impeachment. Later that year, Clinton surrenders his admission to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

See below for important documents during this effort.

Click here for complaint filed by SLF with Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct, 1998

Click here for mandamus petition filed by SLF with the Arkansas Supreme Court seeking order to compel Committee to take up proceedings, December 1999

Click here for Arkansas Supreme Court decision, mandamus action compelling Committee to move forward with Bar complaint against Clinton, Jan. 27, 2000

Click here for Agreed Order of Discipline from Independent Counsel's Office, Clinton surrenders law license, January 2001

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