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Hillary’s 1st Law Case: “Let Them Eat Rat!”

Given that Mrs. Bill Clinton likes to talk about her 35 years of “public service,” it might be instructive to look back at her early days as a working lawyer at the Rose Law Firm, as well as her stint at the Legal Services Corporation.

First some excerpts from the somewhat reverential biography, A Woman In Charge, by Carl Bernstein, pp 130-132:

Making Arkansas Home

THE ATMOSPHERE at the Rose Law Firm was not always welcoming. Some secretaries made disparaging comments about Hillary out of her presence. Much of the gossip was about her appearance, and some reflected obvious envy of an accomplished woman in an executive position.

Even her own secretary mocked Hillary’s attempts at creating a career woman image: “At first, she didn’t wear stockings and the old ladies in the firm were horrified. She was a comic figure as a lady lawyer. Her hair was fried into an Orphan Annie perm. She had one large eyebrow across her forehead that looked like a giant caterpillar. We laughed until we cried. She tried to look good when she went to court, and she would put on some awful plastic jewelry. She’d be wearing high heels she couldn’t walk in. There wasn’t one stereotypically womanly or feminine thing about her.”

Hillary’s weight was a regular topic of conversation, spurred by her inability to shed the few pounds that would have made her more attractive. “She was on a perpetual diet. She would show up for work with a big bag of lettuce and eat out of it all day,” said her secretary

Hillary’s manner with other members of the firm and their clients could be intimidating—not because she was particularly aggressive, but because she was rarely, if ever, deferential. It had never been her style nor would it ever be. “In our morning meetings she didn’t hold her tongue,” Hubbell noted. “She was simply never intimidated by anyone, partner or client, and that in itself is often intimidating to others.” Would a new associate who was male be judged on similar grounds? Probably not, and it took Hillary a long time to feel at ease in Little Rock and at Rose, except with Vince and Webb—the Three Amigos, as they came to refer to themselves…

Despite the sometimes tense atmosphere, Hillary came to enjoy her workdays, largely because of her relationship with Foster and Hubbell. They poked fun at her intensity, tutored her in the traditions of the capital (and how she might take advantage of them), and looked out for her like a little sister. The three often went to lunch together at the Lafayette Hotel. Sometimes they watched lingerie shows there, a popular form of lunchtime entertainment of the era, in which models from upscale lingerie stores showed off nightgowns and their bodies. Hillary simply laughed at her two partners and told them what Neanderthals they were…

The first case she handled solo involved a canning company Rose represented—against a man who claimed he’d found a rat’s hindquarters in a can of pork and beans. Though he didn’t eat the rat, he said, looking at it made him so sick he couldn’t kiss his fiancee. For the jury’s obvious benefit, he regularly spit into his handkerchief. The plaintiff was awarded only a small amount in damages.

Aside from the obvious “rat’s ass” jokes, the experience shook Hillary. Though her defense was reasonably able and well crafted, she was “amazingly nervous” in front of the jury, according to Hubbell. In fact, she was not a particularly good litigator, hardly light on her feet before judge and jury. There had been signs of it during the Barrister’s Trial with Bill, and the Rose firm began steering her practice toward non-jury work, and she appeared in court only infrequently.

A little more details from “American Evita: Hillary Clinton’s Path to Power,” by Christopher Andersen, pp 62 – 63:

CHAPTER 2

Hillary did not let her conscience get in the way of defending a canning company against a man who opened a can of pork and beans to discover a rat’s derriere poking up at him. The sight was so nauseating, said the plaintiff, that he could not, among other things, bring himself to kiss his fiancee.

Arguing that the rodent parts had been sterilized in the canning process and “might be considered edible” in certain parts of the world, Hillary somehow managed to convince the jury to award the man only a token amount. Hillary and Bill would often joke about her first legal victory for the Rose Law Firm in what she dubbed “The Rat’s Ass Case.”

Not long after, she took on another case that seemed to contradict much of what she had stood for. In her first criminal case, Hillary defended a three-hundred-pound man charged with assaulting his girlfriend. Prosecutors viewed the case as cut-and-dried—police would testify that the woman had been severely beaten—but were blind-sided during the preliminary hearing when Hillary convinced the judge to drop the charges on a technicality.

Both “The Rat’s Ass Case” and Hillary’s successful defense of a man accused of brutally attacking the woman he lived with underscored her willingness to compromise her values if that’s what it took to be on the fast track to partner. “Money was extremely important” to Hillary, claimed Roy Drew, who later managed a number of the Clintons’ investments. Betsey Wright concurred, citing Hillary’s assigned role as Clinton family breadwinner. “Bill doesn’t care about money,” Wright said. “He would live under a bridge…. He just doesn’t care. But Hillary did.”

It didn’t hurt that Hillary was the wife of a sitting state attorney general. Hillary insisted that “steps have been taken” to ensure that no conflict of interest would take place, but the fact remained that Rose represented the most powerful interests in the region – from real estate and retail to banking and manufacturing. Rose counted legislators, congressmen, state supreme court justices — not to mention a former member of the United Slates Senate – among its partners. Yet partner Herb Rule had to concede that, as the influential wife of a future governor and President, Hillary stood out as “a prize catch.”

Hillary, for one, thought the arrangement was just fine. In 1977, President Carter rewarded Hillary for her help in Indiana [where she had worked on his campaign] with an appointment to the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), a federally funded nonprofit organization established by Congress. When she was asked during her Senate confirmation hearings whether the Rose Law Firm would recuse itself from cases involving organizations that received money from the LSC, Hillary waffled. In the end, she would not say yes.

While she continued to rack up hefty fees at her Arkansas law firm, Hillary oversaw an LSC budget that swelled from $90 million to $321 million—money that was used, among other things, to try to defeat California’s tax-cutting Proposition 9, get Medicare to pay for a welfare recipient’s sex-change operation, and support legal efforts in Michigan to give standing to “Black English” (Ebonics) as a separate language. In the final days of the Carter administration, the LSC would frantically dole out $260 million in taxpayer funds to various liberal causes in an effort to keep the money out of the hands of incoming Reagan appointees.

The General Accounting Office would issue a report on the LSC under Hillary Rodham and conclude that “many of the people associated with it are uniquely reprehensible.” 

So Hillary was not good in front of a jury. Indeed, she was such lousy trial attorney that the Rose Law Firm steered her away from litigation.

Moreover, she defended clients who seemed to represent the opposite of her oft-purported lofty anti-corporate and pro-feminist principles. (Imagine getting a wife-beater off on a technicality.)

And then she played politics with the Legal Services Corporation to such an extent that she was chastised by the GAO.

So much for the start of madam’s “brilliant legal career.”

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, November 21st, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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