We were talking the other day, a few of my lawyer colleagues and me, about lawyers who had influenced us, inspired us, taught us, mentored us, shaped our careers..
I’ve got a fairly lengthy list. Of course, I mentioned Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. And Perry Mason. I think I read all of the Perry Mason mysteries when I was a kid, and watched just about every TV episode, from the young Raymond Burr to the very old and fat Raymond Burr.
Of course, there was also Billy Flynn from Chicago and My Cousin Vinny’s Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (also known as Jerry Calo). Ben Matlock and Denny Crane. And one of my very, very favorites is the British barrister Horace Rumpole.
As we talked about several of these lawyers, one of my friends pointed out, “Yeah, Mike, but those are all fictional characters. Didn’t any real lawyer ever inspire you or teach you?”
Well, yes. That lawyer’s name is F. Lee Bailey.
F. Lee Bailey who died this past week, was probably the very greatest criminal defense trial lawyer who ever lived. I read his book, The Defense Never Rests, when I was a teenager, first thinking I might want to be a lawyer.
And he had a terrific career. You know a lot of his cases, although you might not know that he was the guy. But he was “the guy”.
He’s the one who won the appeal, and then won the retrial for Dr. Sam Sheppard of Ohio. You know Dr. Sheppard’s story, because it formed the basis or the inspiration for the TV-series, and later the movie, The Fugitive.
Lee Bailey also represented the man believed to be the Boston Strangler.
In the 1960s, F. Lee Bailey represented, defended, Captain Ernest Medina, who was the senior officer accused of murder, among other charges, in the My Lai Massacre (a horrible incident that took place during the Vietnam War).
Bailey also represented notorious Florida conman Glenn Turner, who rose to fame and fortune through a complex pyramid scheme.
Bailey defended Patricia Hearst. Patricia Hearst was the grand-daughter of the famous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Patricia Hearst, you may recall or you may have read, was kidnapped from her home by radicals in the early 70s, anarchists bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.
Before you know it, she was sending out videos, or they were sending out videos, featuring her supporting their causes. And then she was on video robbing a bank. Eventually, she and a bunch of her colleagues, or captors, were captured, arrested by the F.B.I. She stood trial on the charge of bank robbery, and her defense, put forth by the inimitable F. Lee Bailey, was that she was not responsible because she had been brainwashed.
This was one of his more notorious losses. Patricia Hearst was convicted and sentenced to prison. Her sentence was commuted by Jimmy Carter and eventually she was pardoned.
F. Lee Bailey is probably best-known to all of you as one of the leaders of the Dream Team who defended O.J. Simpson. In fact, Bailey has a new book coming out, The Truth about the O.J. Simpson Trial: By the Architect of the Defense.
Lee Bailey is one of the lawyers who is most-credited for winning that case. He was an incredible trial lawyer, probably the best cross-examiner that the world has ever seen. In fact it was his cross-examination of Detective Mark Fuhrman that really turned the tide in the O.J. Simpson trial.
I’ve met F. Lee Bailey on a number of occasions at seminars and at the courthouse. He actually helped try a case in Fort Pierce about twenty or twenty-five years ago. He and I talked in the hallway a number of times.
The last time I talked to F. Lee Bailey, he told me and a couple of my colleagues that O.J. Simpson was absolutely innocent and didn’t kill his wife. Personally, I don’t believe that, but Bailey seemed to believe it.
The first time I ever saw F. Lee Bailey in person was at a seminar. He was teaching a course in trial skills. And he taught for about two hours, starting at 8:30 in the morning. Two hours, with no notes.
Bailey was famous for not using notes in court. He wouldn’t use them himself, and he wouldn’t allow any other member of the defense team to use notes.
There’s a well-known story of him trying a case with a young colleague, and the colleague walked up to the lectern to deliver his opening remarks to the jury, and he spread out on the leactern his very well organized outline and notes. And just before he finished clearing his throat, F. Lee Bailey walked up from behind him, reached over and grabbed the notes, and went back to the defense table and put them in his briefcase.
Bailey was brilliant. He had an incredible memory. And he taught that two hour seminar class first thing in the morning with no notes, wandering around with a very large gin and tonic. And it was very clear that it was not his first gin and tonic of the morning, and it might not have even been his second.
But he was absolutely brilliant, and I learned from him that day, just like I learned from him many, many times.
The world will miss F. Lee Bailey. Courtrooms will miss F. Lee Bailey. And if he’s looking down on us now, I hope he knows that he changed the lives of lots of lawyers. And I’m one.