Hubbell Trouble

updated 03/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

THAT RISING TIDE OF TROUBLE KNOWN as Whitewater has claimed another victim—Webster Hubbell, 46, friend and golfing partner of Bill, former law partner of Hillary and associate attorney general. The influential Hubbell abruptly resigned last week, doomed by a combination of the President's problems and his own ethical woes.

Former colleagues at Little Rock's Rose Law Firm plan to file an ethics complaint alleging that Hubbell overcharged clients and that the firm was stuck with an estimated $1 million bill for a failed lawsuit Hubbell filed on behalf of a company owned by his in laws. He denies the charges. Worse, the long-standing money dispute followed stories that Hubbell's firm had once represented Madison Guaranty, the busted savings and loan at the center of special counsel Robert Fiske's Whitewater investigation.

In a less-heated political atmosphere, neither revelation would be likely to outweigh Hubbeli's solid reputation as a plain dealer and a steady administrator. He is widely credited with holding the Justice Department together during the bungled search for an attorney general in the Clinton Administration's first months. But White House insiders concede that relentless press interest in Whitewater and Fiske's aggressive probe have them in a panic. "There is a throw-everyone-overboard mentality out there," says one presidential aide. "Webb knew he was the next head in the big-game hunt."

Many in Arkansas insist that Hubbell is an honest man. "People here are distraught for Webb, but they're wondering what's going on at the Rose Law Firm," says Steve Barnes, a local television reporter. Bill Allen, the Arkansas delegate to the American Bar Association, says of Hubbell: "I believe he still has his integrity. Hell land on his feet."

The son of a Little Rock engineer and a Sunday-school teacher, the 6'5", 260-lb. Hubbell became a star offensive tackle for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks and was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1969. But Hubbell enrolled at the University of Arkansas Law School. His friendship with the Clintons dates back to at least 1973, when they took the stale bar exam together. He joined the Rose firm that year. Married since 1971 to Suzanna Ward, a real estate agent, Hubbell has four children, Walter, Rebecca, Caroline and Kelley, and lived in the Heights, an exclusive Little Rock neighborhood, before moving to Washington.

In 1979, Hubbell, then an unpaid Little Rock city councilman, was chosen by his colleagues to serve a two-year term as mayor. Five years later, Bill Clinton tapped him to serve four months as interim chief justice of the state supreme court.

Now Hubbell is out of a job, a twist of fate he may have inadvertently predicted in a newspaper interview almost a year ago. Recalling his football days, he said, "Quarterbacks and running backs are remembered for their achievements. Offensive linemen are remembered for their mistakes."

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