Florida strips F. Lee Bailey of legal license


The Florida Supreme Court disbarred F. Lee Bailey for five years on Wednesday, effectively ending the legendary law career of one of America's most brilliant defenders of the criminally accused. 
The court said Bailey, 68, had "committed some of the most egregious rules violations possible, evidencing a complete disregard for the rules governing attorneys." 
Bailey, who lives in Manalapan and has offices in West Palm Beach and Boston, was traveling Wednesday and couldn't be reached by telephone. 
The former Marine fighter pilot has been America's prototype celebrity lawyer for 40 years, defending the rich, the notable and the notorious: accused wife-killers Sam Sheppard, Carl Coppolino and O.J. Simpson; heiress, kidnapee and convicted bank robber Patty Hearst; Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo; and My Lai massacre soldier Ernest Medina. 
The case that brought him down was his defense of drug smuggler Claude Duboc and the $6 million of Duboc's stock that Bailey claimed federal prosecutors let him have in an under-the-table deal. 
The government said he was to have it only "in trust" for expenses until the case was over.   

Lawsuit over money continues 
Bailey still could recover some of the money, depending on the outcome of a suit he filed against the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. 
The Supreme Court's disbarment order was as brutally worded as the findings of Collier County Circuit Judge Cynthia Ellis, who presided over a weeklong trial of the Bar's charges against Bailey in June 2000. 
Like Ellis, the high court said Bailey was guilty of using his client's money for his own purposes, giving false testimony, disregarding a judge's orders and disparaging his client to the judge. 
"Such misconduct strikes at the very center of the professional ethic of an attorney and cannot be tolerated," the court said. 
"In light of Bailey's egregious and cumulative misconduct, and the absence of any mitigating factors, we conclude that disbarment is not only appropriate in this case, but necessary to fulfill the threefold purpose of attorney discipline." 
However, the justices rejected Ellis' recommendation that he be disbarred for life and said he could apply for readmission to the Bar after five years, when Bailey would be 73. They gave him 30 days to shut down his practice in Florida and forbade him to take any new clients. The court's action means he also faces probable disbarment in Massachusetts, the only other state in which he still holds a license. 
"It's a tragic way to end his career," said David Ristoff of New Port Richey, a former staff attorney for the Florida Bar who prosecuted the case against Bailey over three years. 
"He was a very good lawyer, one of my childhood heroes," Ristoff said. "So it's kind of ironic that I was part of seeing him disbarred. But it was well-deserved - he earned it." 
Bailey maintained that he and federal prosecutors had an understanding - a "sneaky deal," as he testified - to outmaneuver the French government and get more than $100 million of Duboc's property turned over to the U.S. government, in exchange for a lighter sentence. 
Bailey said prosecutors agreed to let him keep the pharmaceutical company stock to pay the upkeep on Duboc's two estates in France and other assets. 
If it went down in value, he was left holding the bag; if it went up, he could keep the profits for his fee. When it went up to $18 million in early 1995, he said, the government demanded it back. 
Attorney Don Beverly of West Palm Beach defended Bailey during the trial before Judge Ellis, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to "referee" the disbarment case. 
"Unfortunately, I always felt that the referee had a difficult time understanding the issues," Beverly said Wednesday. 
He noted that the judge in the federal claims suit, which was tried in Fort Lauderdale this summer, reacted differently to Bailey's assertions and testimony. 
Judge Marion Blank Horn said the most persuasive witnesses during the eight-day trial were Bailey himself and a federal prosecutor who Bailey said corroborated his version of events. 
She said Bailey could be awarded some of the $14.3 million he claims should be his. 
Different judges, takes 
"For a circuit judge in (Naples) to reach one conclusion about Bailey's credibility and a seasoned federal judge to reach exactly the opposite conclusion certainly stretches my imagination . . . that the Bar has proven its case by clear and convincing evidence," Beverly said. 
Bruce Rogow, constitutional law expert and professor at Florida Atlantic University, argued Bailey's case to the Supreme Court. His office said he was traveling in Thailand and couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. 
Bar lawyer Debra Davis of Tampa and private attorney Terry Schmidt of Jacksonville, who aided in the Bar's prosecution of Bailey, said the Supreme Court's order speaks for itself. 
"I think the court has taken the measure of the man, and he's come up wanting," Schmidt said. 
The Bar lawyers said they didn't target Bailey because of his celebrity status, but acknowledged it presented "unique challenges." 
"The Bar needed to prosecute this case in the manner in which it did, because it could have been subjected to criticism for being intimidated by someone like Bailey," Ristoff said. 
Professional and personal crises have dogged Bailey since the Duboc case began seven years ago. 
His wife, Patricia, died of pancreatic cancer in 1999, and his mother, Grace Mitchell, died four months later. He had surgery to repair a painful constriction in his left hand, and he testified at one point that he was broke and in debt. 
In 1996, he spent 44 days in a federal prison until he could mortgage his yacht and his Manalapan home to get enough money to replace what he had used from the $6 million stock fund. 
In August 2000, a federal judge in Orlando found him in contempt of court for claiming that $2 million of a client's money in a Cayman Islands account belonged to him for legal fees and not to the government. The client in that case was William J. McCorkle, an infomercial pitchman convicted of fraud in 1998. 
Bailey's law career began in 1960 when he was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar after graduating with the highest grade point average in the history of Boston University's law school. He had previously dropped out of Harvard to become a Marine fighter pilot. 
He shot to fame in the 1960s defending in separate cases two doctors accused of killing their wives. He won an acquittal for George Elderly and won the reversal of a conviction for Sheppard in the celebrated case that inspired the classic TV program The Fugitive. 
In 1971, he won an acquittal for Ernest Medina, a soldier who was tried for his role in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. 
He unsuccessfully defended Albert DeSalvo in the case of the Boston Strangler, who murdered 13 women. 
Bailey's most visible defeat was the conviction of Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and took part in several bank robberies. 
Part of 'Dream Team' 
In 1995, he was part of the "Dream Team" of lawyers - Bailey, Johnnie Cochran and Robert Shapiro - that won an acquittal for football legend O.J. Simpson on charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. 
A clash of egos led to a devastating blowup between Bailey and Shapiro, who had long been friends. 
When Bailey was charged with drunken driving in 1982, he hired Shapiro to represent him. Shapiro described Bailey as his mentor and a father figure, made Bailey the godfather of his eldest son and often sent him business, including the Simpson and Duboc cases. 
Bailey's brusque, sometimes abrasive courtroom style and his penchant for attracting media attention often have rubbed judges and other lawyers the wrong way. He was censured by the Massachusetts Bar in 1970 for talking too much to the media and was barred in 1971 from practicing in New Jersey for one year for remarks he made on a case. 
Bailey's disbarment in Florida will have to go before the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners for review, possible hearings and submission to that state's Supreme Court. States generally honor each other's disciplinary actions, but Bailey still could put up a battle for his license in Massachusetts. 
Private investigator Patrick McKenna of West Palm Beach has worked with Bailey for nearly 18 years 
"I was with him when he had to go to federal prison, I was with him the night his wife died, the night his mother died - a lot of tough times, and he's a tough guy," McKenna said Wednesday. 
"I believe as long as there's fighting left to be done, he'll be in there fighting." 
Bailey won't lack for other career opportunities outside the courtroom. Since the 1960s and 1970s, when he hosted the TV show Good Company and began writing such books as The Defense Never Rests, he has been sought after for expert analysis and commentary. 
He's also considered an expert on lie detector tests and aviation law and holds a commercial pilot's license. 
After the trial of the Bar's charges against him, Bailey said he planned to do more writing and lecturing if forced to give up law, and he vowed not to submit to an idle retirement. 
"As long as I'm in good health," he said, "the best way to stay fit is to keep p---ing on the government." 
  
  
F. Lee Bailey's most famous cases 
  
Date - 1966 
Client - Dr. Sam Sheppard 
State - Ohio 
Case - Murder of his wife 
Result - Won the reversal of a conviction. 
Inspired the TV series The Fugitive. 
  
Date - 1966 
Client - Dr. Carl Coppolino 
State - New Jersey 
Case - Murder of his mistress' husband 
Result - Acquitted 
  
Date - 1967 
Client - Dr. Carl Coppolino 
State - Florida 
Case - Lethal injection murder of his first wife 
Result - Convicted 
  
Date - 1967 
Client - Albert DeSalvo 
State - Massachusetts 
Case - The `Boston Strangler' 
Result - Confessed, but untried, convicted on other sex charges. 
  
Date - 1971 
Client - Capt. Ernest Medina 
State - Georgia 
Case - Accused of killing civilians in the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War 
Result - Acquitted 
  
Date - 1973 
Client - Glenn Turner 
State - Florida 
Case - Mail fraud 
Result - Charges dismissed 
  
Date - 1976 
Client - Patty Hearst 
State - California 
Case - Bank robbery 
Result - Convicted 
  
Date - 1994 
Client - Claude DuBoc 
State - Florida 
Case - Drug trafficking 
Result - Pleaded guilty 
  
Date - 1995 
Client - O.J. Simpson 
State - California 
Case - Murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman 
Result - Acquitted 


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