Legal Ethics

Old tapes lead to new scrutiny of Hillary Clinton's defense of an accused rapist

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An old interview tape in which Hillary Clinton discusses her defense of an accused rapist has raised ethical questions about whether she revealed too much about the case, violating the attorney-client privilege.

Critics also say the tapes show a gap between Clinton’s devotion to the causes of women and children and her defense in the case, which initially attacked the credibility of the 12-year-old alleged victim.

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news website, has a story on the tapes, recorded in the mid-1980s for an Esquire magazine profile of the Clintons that was never published. The Washington Post notes the story.

The Washington Free Beacon also links to court documents in the case, including a 1975 affidavit in which Clinton sought a psychiatric examination of the alleged victim.

Clinton’s affidavit said she had been informed that the alleged victim “is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing. I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body.”

Clinton told the interviewer the defendant was “a guy accused of raping a 12-year-old who was the daughter of the family he was living with in Springdale.” She didn’t refer to the defendant by name, but the Washington Free Beacon identified him as Thomas Alfred Taylor, who was alive at the time of the interview.

“It was a fascinating case, it was a very interesting case,” Clinton said. Referring to the defendant, Clinton said, “Of course he claimed that he didn’t. All this stuff. He took a lie detector test. I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs [laughter].”

Clinton said the prosecution had the crime lab test the defendant’s bloody underwear. The crime lab had cut out a section of the underwear for testing, then threw away the cut-out section. Clinton got permission to have an independent test of what remained of the underwear, and her expert found there was not enough blood left on the garment to test.

“I plea bargained it down,” Clinton said, “because it turned out they didn’t have any evidence.” Clinton said she “got him off with with time served in the county jail.” The Washington Free Beacon says Taylor pleaded guilty to unlawful fondling of a child, and he was sentenced to one year in prison, with two months’ credit for time served.

The Washington Free Beacon interviewed Chapman University law professor Ronald Rotunda about his view of Clinton’s ethics obligations. He said the lawyer’s job is to represent the client the best way he or she can, within the bounds of the law. The lawyer doesn’t have to believe the client is innocent, he said.

But Rotunda said a lawyer who discloses the results of a client’s polygraph may be violating the attorney-client privilege. “You can’t do that,” he said. “Unless the client says: ‘You’re free to tell people that you really think I’m a scumbag, and the only reason I got a lighter sentence is because you’re a really clever lawyer.’”

A group called Correct the Record, which defends potential Democratic candidates, issued a statement by its deputy communications director, Adrienne Watson. “This is another desperate and shameful attempt by the right to distract from Hillary Clinton’s strong record,” Watson said. “The legal case, and Hillary Clinton’s role as the defense attorney who was appointed to the case by the judge, occurred 39 years ago. Hillary Clinton went on to fight for groundbreaking justice for rape victims, including by setting up Arkansas’ first rape hotline.”

Updated at 11:15 a.m. to include statement by Correct the Record.

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