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Last Laugh

lastlaugh.gif (5651 bytes) Below is a transcription of the article at left.

Paula Jones' check derailed

Was it a last laugh by the president?

The New York Daily News reported that Bill Clinton's $850,000 check to settle the Paula Jones case was made out to her -- and her three sets of feuding lawyers.

So she won't be cashing it anytime soon.

"A check made out to multiple parties is essentially noncashable if any of the parties is disputing it," said the Rutherford Institute's John Whitehead, one of the lawyers.

Susan Carpenter-McMillan, spokeswoman for Jones, said, "That check was supposed to be made out to Paula Jones.  This is an in-your-face-type action."

I'd like to analyze this news article, which appeared in the Sunday, January 17, 1999, edition of The Kansas City Star, the major daily in a metropolitan area of 1.5 million people.

It did not appear as an editorial or as being mere gossip, it was printed as straight news, as being fact.

Clearly the point of this article is to denigrate Clinton for adding in the names of her three sets of lawyers when he made out his $850,000 settlement check payable to Paula Jones.  Clinton purposely included Jones's lawyers' names on the check to derail it.  How vindictive.

Furthermore, it's clear that Clinton was having a last laugh at Jones's expense.  How petty of him, especially considering what Carpenter-McMillan must have meant by her elegant phrase, "an in-your-face-type action."

At least that's the take I first took.  Read it for yourself again, and you decide.


But whoa, this news article omits a fact that has a critical bearing on its central point, which is why Clinton did indeed add her lawyers' names to the list of payees on Jones's check.

The omitted fact is that whenever a lawyer takes on a client in a civil case he always and automatically sends to the defendant what's called a "lien letter."  The sending of such a lien letter is a matter of course, and it is both expected and, for all practical purposes, required.  It is the document that the lawyer representing a new client sends to the defendant that says, "I hereby represent this person as her lawyer, so don't talk to her, talk to me."  Invariably that letter also claims a lien on any settlement or jury award the defendant might end up owing to the client.  In this case, the lawyers' lien letters to Clinton said, in essence, "If you pay any money to Paula Jones arising out of this matter, we claim a lien of X percent thereon because we have invested our time and money in securing it."

A lawyer's lien letter is no different from a mechanic's lien, in which a repairman may claim a right to the thing you hired him to fix if you don't pay for his work.  In the same way, a lawyer may claim a lien against a civil defendant's payments to his client.  Such a lien, is, as I say, not merely commonplace but, basically, required.

Furthermore, such a lien is entirely enforceable, by which I mean that if the client (Jones) fails to pay the lienors (her lawyers), then the lienee (Clinton) is also liable for their (the lawyers) fees (which generally range from 20% to 50%, the mode being 33%).  As a claims adjuster I authorized the issuance of hundreds upon hundreds of checks made payable to "Polly Plaintiff and Durt, Smuc & Dragbottom."  Never once in four years did I ever issue a check to a represented claimant that did NOT include the lawyer's name on the check, and I'm sure that's how it works everywhere.

And of course it's true, as John Whitehead says, that all of the parties named as payees on a check must endorse it before it may be negotiated further.  That's how it's supposed to work, I mean, that's the whole idea.  The newspaper is guilty of selective reporting here; if they'd asked Whitehead whether Clinton should add Jones's lawyers' names, he would have said yes.

Incidentally, that's how scumbag personal injury lawyers, with whom I am quite familiar, keep final control over their clients.  They invariably have the client endorse the check first and turn it over to the law firm, which then endorses it and deposits it in their own account.  Weeks or months later the scumbag PI lawyer cooks the books a bit and issues the claimant a check for a way lot less than she thought she'd get.

Anyway, in light of the fact that Clinton was legally required to add Jones's lawyers' names to the check, now how do you now assess the above news article?


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