F. Lee Bailey appears this week before the State of Maine Board of Bar Examiners to request permission to once again practice law. I am rooting for Bailey. He’s been disbarred now for more than a decade. If he wants to return to the trenches, we should welcome him back. At 79, he’s still sharp as a tack.
Francis Lee Bailey, Jr., is a name known to all lawyers, and to most of the American public. He hit the ground running after his admission to the bar in 1960. He served as a jet fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corp., and, endearingly enough, walking out of Harvard to join the Marines in 1952. He graduated first in his law school class from Boston University in 1960.
He did not climb to the top of the nation’s criminal-defense bar; he leapt there, arriving with his brash and unapologetic defense of Sam Sheppard, his role as supervising defense attorney in the My Lai Massacre court martial, his representation of Patty Hearst, and a star role in dismantling Mark Furman in the O.J. Simpson trial. He walked tall, charged big fees, and was in demand from one coast to another.
Bailey has always been, and he remains, a proponent of polygraph exams. He briefly had his own television show, on which he would administer exams to folks before the camera. He credits his familiarity with polygraphy, a skill he learned in the military as a legal investigator, with his rapid ascent in the law.
It all came tumbling down when he crossed paths in 1994 with a marijuana magnate named Claude Duboc. The government indicted Duboc, charging him with crimes and seeking to seize millions of dollars in assets. Among those assets were approximately $6 million worth of stock in a company called Biochem Pharma.
Bailey was offered a $3.5 million fee, which the government acknowledged. But if the government took possession of Biochem Pharma stock, the stocks would have to be sold immediately. A creative prosecutor asked Bailey to hold the stock, rather than take a fee outright. The government then asked Bailey to manage a couple of Duboc’s French estates and to prepare them for sale, with proceeds of the sales reverting to the U.S. Government as part of a plea deal for Duboc. It was an audacious gamble on Bailey’s part. There was no guarantee that the stock’s value would increase; if the stock decreased, Bailey’s fee would be nothing.
When Duboc got cold feet and tried to back out of the deal, new lawyers appeared to replace Bailey. By this time, the Biochem Pharma stock had increased to some $20 million in value. Bailey took the position that some of those monies, a couple of million dollars to be exact, were due him as his fee, both for his representation of Duboc and for his stewardship of assets that had tripled in value.
Soon enough, this dispute became blood sport. The government charged that Bailey had diverted Duboc’s client’s funds to his own personal use. Bailey responded that both the government and the court knew better. There were conversations in chambers before the federal judge presiding over Duboc’s case that made clear Bailey had done no such thing. It did not matter. Bailey was ordered to return money he no longer had. When he could not do so, the judge tossed him in jail, holding him in contempt of a federal court order. Bailey spent 44 days behind bars before his brother could raise the funds necessary to win his freedom.
In 2001, the State of Florida disbarred Bailey. He was thereafter disbarred in Massachusetts, where he also had a license to practice law. He’s not been permitted to appear in court on behalf of a client for more than a decade.
I’ve heard folks say that Bailey raided a client’s trust fund, and suffered the lawyer’s version of the death penalty as a result. Things are far more complex than that. Bailey is no thief.
I met the man by chance not long after he was tossed from the bar. He interviewed me to represent a businessman in a jam in North America. Thereafter, he asked me to represent a family friend charged with manslaughter. I spent several weeks with Bailey, both as a guest in his home and in Florida, where we interviewed witnesses in a piece of commercial litigation. In recent years, I’ve consulted him about complex cases, visiting him at his office in Maine, and at his home. He is a lawyer’s lawyer.
F. Lee Bailey once stumbled and fell amid circumstances that he should have been smart enough to avoid. Just how this lion of the bar found himself at the government’s mercy, relying on a prosecutor’s memory of verbal discussions, is a mystery to me. He ought to have known better. The mistake cost him his license for a decade.
He never lost interest in the law during his decade in exile. I am amazed still when I speak to him about a case: He always asks questions about issues I had overlooked. He has an unfailing memory, and a keen mind still honed to a razor’s sharpness. I am hoping that Maine permits him to return to the bar. Sure, the man has made his enemies. That is to be expected. Trial lawyers don’t worry about popularity. That is a weaker man’s game. In the high-stakes arena Bailey calls home, there are winners and losers. Losers almost always carry a grudge.
What makes Bailey a winner is that he carries no grudge. He’s been disbarred. He’s served his time. Now he simply wants to return to the courtroom. Let him.
Reprinted courtesy of the Journal Register Co.
I tried, I really did, to write about something other than Hurricane Sandy, the Frankenstorm, the Storm of the Century, that was to drive us to our knees. But after this near miss with yet another apocalypse, I could think of little else. The end was nigh, and we’re still here. Isn’t that worth a giggle or two?
Generally, I avoid media reports about storms. The breathless yammering about all that could go wrong is wearying. Whatever good such crisis-mongering may do for television ratings, it does nothing but distract: try running a law office when your employees are worried about which militia to join when civilization crumbles.
So when I heard Sandy was coming, I sighed. "Here we go again," I thought.
Then I let my guard down. My wife turned on the television as I rode an exercise bike. There it was. Colorful graphics. Breathless descriptions. Preparedness alerts. Advice on what to do, what to expect, and how to survive this the mother of all storms.
Within an hour, I had bought into the drama of the big event: the television coverage was like watching a movie trailer for a melodrama in which I was to play the starring role. Bring on the apocalypse! Like Robinson Crusoe, I was ready to stand alone to face the elements.
We stockpiled enough food and water to usher in a new medieval darkness. I wondered whether it was time to dust off an old Latin text, to prepare a new monastery to preserve learning amid the centuries of darkness to come.
Then the winds came. They howled. They bent the trees in the fields surrounding our home. We heard big things go clunk against the roof. A wall of sliding glass doors on a porch was blown in, the windows shattering. We lost power for several hours, and then sat as the lights flickered all evening. As a precaution, we moved a mattress into the kitchen, and slept in a spot we figured would be well away from any other windows likely to be blown in. Hour by hour we were surviving. It felt good.
All was calm the next morning. We walked down to the road expecting to see downed trees – just a few branches. We expected to see flooding – just a few puddles. The radio reported the a road or two near my office was closed, but I made it into the office just fine. We had power at home, in the office, and I was online and connected to the larger world.
We got lucky out my way. I know the luck was not shared by others. I heard about friends’ homes ruined by flooding, and power outages were everywhere. We live out of the way on a hill. We lose power on sunny days. Why were we so lucky this time? Our good fortune in Sandy had me prepared to vote for CL&P for president. Always a contrarian, I survived the Frankenstorm with hardly a scratch.
The best thing about Sandy is that it shut down political campaigns. For a day or two we were spared the chatter of the politicos crooning for our vote. All those brave individualists on the right carping about how big government kills the American spirit were cowering under their beds, hoping the first responders would arrive in time to supply some fresh diapers. And if that didn’t happen? Why, blame Obama! Leadership is what we need!
I watched the gathering storm on television harboring something like hope for a fresh beginning. Isn’t that what all of our fantasies about the apocalypse come to – sort of like a cultural declaration of bankruptcy, and then, salvaging what’s best, a new start? Blow, winds, howl; wipe clean the slate; drive both parties, and their noisy rhetoric, off the continent. The storm was an occupying force.
All the political noise was drowned out for a couple of blessed days. Thank you, Sandy. And thanks, too, for sparing my family the pain you inflicted on so many others.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.