Thursday, December 12, 2002
Court Upholds Dismissal of Fugitive’s Lawsuit Against Clintons
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A suit alleging that former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and two associates conspired to undermine campaign finance laws was properly dismissed by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on the ground that the plaintiff is a fugitive from justice, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
In an unpublished opinion Tuesday, Div. Two agreed with Judge Aurelio Munoz that the fugitive disentitlement doctrine, which prevents a litigant from using the court system for his or her benefit while avoiding prosecution or imprisonment, applies to Peter F. Paul.
The doctrine has been applied to various types of proceedings initiated by a fugitive, including criminal appeals and writ petitions and civil suits unrelated to the criminal proceedings.
Paul, a businessman and former associate of famed comic book illustrator Stan Lee, claimed he contributed $2 million to Hillary Clinton’s successful Senate campaign in New York two years ago, but that the contributions were never reported. He alleged that he was encouraged to make the donations by promises of a future business relationship, which never materialized, with Bill Clinton.
The Clintons, Paul claims, disassociated themselves from him after it was disclosed that he had been twice convicted of felonies involving fraud and customs violations more than 15 years earlier. He was disinvited from the last Clinton state dinner at the White House, and never received a promised overnight stay in the Lincoln bedroom, he alleged in his complaint.
Munoz ruled that Paul, now under indictment in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on charges of bank fraud and manipulating the stock of now-bankrupt Stan Lee Media, Inc., could not sue while fighting extradition from Brazil.
Justice Michael Nott, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed.
“In his continued refusal to return to the United States, appellant has demonstrated a lack of regard for the processes of federal and state courts, and thus should not be afforded their protection,” he wrote.
The justice rejected the contention that the fugitive disentitlement issue, which did not appear on the face of the complaint, could not be resolved on demurrer.
A demurrer can be used to test the plaintiff’s capacity to sue, which a fugitive lacks, Nott explained. The Court of Appeal, he added, can take judicial notice of an indictment in another court, and of extradition proceedings.
The jurist also rejected the contention that Paul, whose attorneys claim he is cooperating with U.S. authorities, is in the “constructive custody” of the United States. As long as he continues to resist extradition, Nott said, Paul is considered a fugitive.
“Appellant’s agreement to submit to extradition in a formal manner is his only opportunity to change his status as a fugitive,” the jurist explained. In a footnote, Nott pointed out that Paul did not request that the dismissal of his suit be stayed pending a change in his fugitive status.
The case was argued on appeal by James F. Marshall of Judicial Watch for the plaintiff and by Stephen J. Kaufman of Smith Kaufman and Philip A. Levy for the defendants.
The case is Paul v. Clinton, B155792.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company