The Week (US)

The celebrity attorney who defended the infamous

F. Lee Bailey 1933–2021


O.J. Simpson, the Boston Strangler, Patty Hearst, the Army captain who oversaw the My Lai massacre in Vietnam—no defendant’s case was too daunting for F. Lee Bailey. An inexhausti­ble attorney who carried a revolver in a shoulder holster and piloted a private jet to meetings and court dates, Bailey drew comparison­s to Clarence Darrow for his masterful witness examinatio­ns, ability to poke holes in seemingly airtight cases, and talent for turning trials into national spectacles. Once censured by a judge for “extreme egocentric­ity,” Bailey was a relentless self-promoter whose celebrity outlasted his polarizing legal career. “They say this is the trial of the century,” he told journalist­s during Hearst’s 1976 bank robbery trial, “but it is the fourth such one for me.”

Francis Lee Bailey was born in Waltham, Mass., to a father who worked in advertisin­g sales and a mother who ran a nursery school, said the Los Angeles Times. He went to Harvard University with dreams of becoming a writer, but after two years “dropped out and joined the Navy to train as a pilot.” When Bailey transferre­d to the Marines to log more jet time, he requested secondary duty in the unit’s legal office and represente­d servicemen in courts-martial. Discharged in 1956, he “earned a law degree from Boston University in 1960, where he had a 90.5 average,” said The Wall Street Journal. Bailey made his name as the attorney for

Dr. Samuel Sheppard, an Ohio osteopath found guilty in 1954 of bludgeonin­g his wife to death. In 1966, Bailey convinced the Supreme Court to reverse the murder conviction— on the grounds that jurors had been exposed to “massive, pervasive, prejudicia­l publicity”—and then “helped win an acquittal at a second trial.”

Bailey’s profession­al peak came in 1995, when he joined the “dream team” of attorneys defending Simpson against charges that he had murdered his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, said The combative lawyer conducted a captivatin­g cross-examinatio­n of LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman, suggesting the officer was a racist who planted a bloody glove at the crime scene. Following that trial, Bailey’s career crashed: He spent time in jail for defying a judge’s order, was hit with a multimilli­on-dollar tax judgment, and lost his license to practice law. He battled for the return of his license into his 80s. “In litigation someone always loses, but they don’t always stay the loser,” he once said. “I’ll fight as long as I have anything to fight with.”

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