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On Being Famous

By Martin Lasden | Sep. 2, 2005

Law Office Management

Sep. 2, 2005

On Being Famous

Four of America's most famous lawyers talk about living and working in the limelight.

For some, fame is synonymous with power. For others, it's the ticket to love, if not fortune. And for still others, it's the next best thing to being immortal. As William Faulkner once observed, a writer writes not because he wants success but because "he wants to leave a scratch on that wall- Kilroy was here-that somebody a hundred or a thousand years later will see."

In one way or another, each of the four lawyers profiled on these pages has already made a deep impression. But along with the attention often comes a profound sense of dissonance. Alan Dershowitz speaks of the "Dersh character" as if he were another person. Gloria Allred admits that there are times when she wishes she had Gloria Allred to lean on. And then there's Gerry Spence, who suffers from what he calls an "imposter complex."

Of course, the pitfalls are not just existential-a point that Mark Geragos underscores when he remembers the time the police came to his home to defuse a pipe bomb. Still, not one of these lawyers would say that they'd be willing to trade their lot for that of a mere mortal. Which suggests that for all of their troubles, the famous (as opposed to the infamous) are still having more fun than the rest of us.

The Professor
At the age of 28 he was the youngest full professor in the history of Harvard Law School. But it was, of course, his feats in the courtroom that made Alan Dershowitz a household name. Among his clients were O. J. Simpson, Jonathan Pollard, and Claus von Bulow, whose case became the subject of a major motion picture, coproduced by Dershowitz's son, Elon.

We meet one rainy morning at Elon's Los Angeles apartment, which is near the ocean and has the lived-in look of a filmmaker's pad. In the living room, rows of framed movie posters cover almost an entire wall. One is from the classic legal drama Twelve Angry Men. Another is from The Giant Claw. Also, among the Star Wars dolls that are sitting around the room I see a "Jesus action figure" and three Hasidic rabbis locked shoulder-to-shoulder in a kick dance.

Hours after I'm gone, Dershowitz will appear before a live audience of several thousand for a one-on-one debate with Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly-a man both renowned and reviled for his in-your-face style. But if the now 67-year-old law professor is at all anxious about this encounter, he doesn't show it. Nor does he seem put off when I ask him to deconstruct his own fearsome persona.

My son, Elon, calls him the "Dersh character." He's this confrontational, accusatory, curt, aggressive kind of guy. I created him. He's like my Frankenstein. I can't dislike him because he's a part of me. But only a part. That's the key. People have different professional presentations. When I'm with a client, I present myself one way. When I'm on television, I present myself another way. And in my private life, I'm not the Dersh character at all. My wife understands this better than anyone. She gets very upset with me because I never argue with her. I'm a little shy, really.

I lived in Brooklyn, in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. And where I grew up, I didn't know any lawyers. I also didn't have anything like a game plan, although it was always assumed that I would somehow make use of my verbal skills. And so my fantasy-ambition would be too strong a word for it-was to open up a law store. My mother even had a location all picked out. It was on the corner of 50th and 16th Avenue. "Alan Dershowitz, attorney at law, bail bonds, insurance, automobile accidents, tax preparation, notary public." My father, who had this little store on the East Side selling men's underwear and work clothes, was big on notary publics. He used to say you can always make a quarter notarizing something. He apparently didn't have as much confidence in me as my mother did.

After high school, I made it into Brooklyn College, but only by the skin of my teeth. My grades were pretty bad. Then I got into Yale Law School off the waiting list. Basically, I talked my way in.

I did very well at Yale, number one in my class, in fact. And that made my teachers think that I should become a professor. So I said to myself, "Hey, they're telling me I'm good enough to be a professor. Who am I to argue?" Then, without even applying, I was offered a teaching job at Harvard.

My whole life was kind of like that; just one accident after another. Kids these days, they all have these very carefully constructed lives. Their parents send them to the right kindergartens, so they can get into the right elementary schools, so they can get into the right prep schools, so that they can get into the right colleges. My life was completely the opposite. I had no real plan, other than to react to what came along. And that's the way fame came to me as well. There was this neighbor from Brooklyn who was a member of the Jewish Defense League, and he was indicted for murder. He couldn't get a real lawyer to defend him, so I got the case. I won a spectacular victory, and that's what put me in the spotlight for the first time.

Nowadays, when I take a case on, I have to be very careful to explain to my clients that people have very strong views about me. Preconceptions. Some positive, some negative. Clearly, one advantage of hiring me is that your case is going to get some attention. On the other hand, sometimes judges will try to show that they're smarter than I am. I let them do it. Always.

Another thing I tell clients is that beating me will make a lawyer's day, maybe even make a lawyer's career. I mean, I know people who put on their résumés, "I beat Alan Dershowitz." So sometimes my involvement in a case will actually make it harder to settle.

When I was in my 30s, there was a period-oh, about five years, I would say-when I was famous but not yet "notorious," and that's when I was getting these offers to become a college president. I never wanted that. In fact, I remember writing a Groucho Marx-like letter to one of those schools saying that I would never want to be part of an institution that would have me as their president.

I'm a divider, not a uniter. I'm also an iconoclast. I am not loved by the left or the right or the center. I manage to alienate them all, even though I'm really a person of the center-left. The views I've expressed on torture are a good example. Basically, I oppose torture, but I know that it happens, so my argument is that before such extreme measures are taken, there needs to be explicit authorization from a judge with a torture warrant. I got that debate going, and I think the scholarly literature is richer for it. I also think that what happened at Abu Ghraib has only vindicated my position, since the torture that was committed there was surreptitious and clearly never would have been formally authorized. But people who don't like me think I'm now in favor of torture, that I love torture, that I'm sadistic. Sure, that bothers me.

I've also been hated for the clients I've represented. Remember Claus von Bulow? And then, of course, there was O. J. Simpson. My mother called it the "Oy vey, O. J. problem." I actually received more hate mail from Jews for that case than I did when I supported the ACLU's defense of Nazis. One night I even got physically attacked. It was at Symphony Hall in Boston. The Israeli Philharmonic was playing, and as soon as the concert was over, this woman came running over to me and just started to hit me, screaming, "You shouldn't be able to enjoy music. You're a terrible man. You help murderers." My wife, who is taller and younger and stronger than I am, immediately saw what was happening and got between us. Obviously, this woman wanted me to strike back, which I didn't. But afterwards, she went around saying, "Didn't you see Dershowitz hitting me?" And everyone said, "No, we saw you hit him."

So things like that happen. Right now, some jerk is writing a book attacking me. He constantly refers to me as a Nazi and keeps comparing me to Eichmann. He's an obscure guy. Nobody's ever heard of him. But because my name is in the title, he hopes to sell some books. I will respond in my own way. I'm not going to say how, but I can assure you he won't like it.

Nobody, I think, has an entirely thick skin when it comes to criticism, and sometimes it does get to me. I try to live a life of high integrity. I do things for principle, and when people challenge my integrity, it really pisses me off. But I fight back. People know they can't just attack me. I answer every negative article. I write letters to the editor. I like to keep the record straight.

One thing, though, that really shocks me about fame is how often people think they know you. It just happened to me last night. I went to a lecture, and this guy came over to me and just started talking to me as if he was my best friend. "Alan, how are you? Blah, blah, blah. ..." I didn't know him from Adam. Yet he assumed I knew him because he knew me. So one strategy is to pretend to know the person. But that makes you vulnerable. Or you can just say, "Sorry, I don't know you." But that can be very embarrassing. "You don't know me? You don't remember that we sat together five years ago?" So what I say is, "Remind me," and then I try to get into a conversation.

I suppose my son, Elon, is at least partially responsible for the Dershowitz stereotype because he made the movie about the Claus von Bulow case called Reversal of Fortune, in which he has me-or rather the actor playing me-behave in an over-the-top way. For example, in one scene he has me slamming the phone down, which is not something I would do. I'm actually very cool under pressure. And in another scene that I especially didn't like, he had me putting down a student. I felt very uncomfortable watching that. But Elon kept telling me, "Don't get upset. That's not you. That's the Dersh character." I loved the film, though.

You know, if I could somehow have the same degree of influence that I now have, but with a lower profile and not be the target of so many crackpots, I would go for it. But that's not possible, and I really do value the influence. Helping to win the release of Anatoly Sharansky, saving people on death row, winning cases on behalf of people who I strongly believe are innocent-those have all been high points in my life. I'm also very proud of being an articulate civil libertarian defender of Israel, which is rare. People these days tend to either be right-wingers who support Israel or left-wingers who oppose Israel. But I give a liberal, anti-settlement, anti-occupation, pro-peace defense. And I have very consciously used my fame to advance that case.

Also, when I think about high points, I think about the time my high school principal admitted that he was wrong about me. He had said that I had a big mouth but not a good brain, and that I should become a Conservative rabbi, which, you see, was his way of putting down Conservative rabbis, since he was an Orthodox rabbi. However, about ten years ago, when I received an honorary degree from Yeshiva University, which had rejected me, the president got up and said that this was to make up for the mistake they all made when they turned me down. And my response was (a) you made the right decision when you made it, and (b) it was very good for me to move to a very large school like Brooklyn College, where I could make my name without anyone having any preconceptions about me.

You know, the last time I drove through Brooklyn with my kids, I actually passed by that street corner where my mom had envisioned my future. The space at that point I think was being occupied by a health products store. So I said to my kids, "Look, you see that? That could have been my law store, and you all could have grown up around here." Of course, even if I had stayed in Brooklyn, I just know it would have led to something bigger. I didn't know about Manhattan law firms. I didn't know about teaching at Harvard. Those were not within my field of vision. But, remember, I grew up during the post-World War II period, the best possible time for anyone to grow up in. There was an expanding economy, expanding opportunities, the civil rights movement, and it was kind of the end of anti-Semitism. So we just believed that the world was waiting for us, that there was always something bigger ahead.

The Feminist
My meeting with the famed feminist lawyer gets off to an awkward start. She has kept me waiting for well over an hour because of a last-minute invitation to appear on television as a talking head. But when she finally materializes, she tells me that the subject of fame really doesn't appeal to her very much, and that it's not what she's about. Then, about ten minutes into our discussion, she excuses herself to take a quick call from the Oprah people.

Gloria Allred, now 64, first made a name for herself in the 1970s as a tireless women's rights advocate. She represented the family of Nicole Brown Simpson during the O. J. Simpson trial and, more recently, Amber Frey, a key prosecution witness in the Scott Peterson trial.

We sit together at one end of a very large conference table. On the wall there are photographs of turn-of-the-century suffragettes marching through city streets, while through the conference room window I see the big white letters of the famous "Hollywood" sign. Allred, however, insists that she rarely represents movie stars.

Fame means little or nothing to me, although I do recognize that it has its pluses and minuses. The good news is that people know who I am and what I stand for. They know that I'm a certain kind of lawyer, that I don't represent big corporations or the government. I represent people just like them, and that I fight to assert, protect, and vindicate their rights. The bad news, if there is bad news, is that since people know what I stand for-for example, women's rights-they attack me personally if they do not believe that women should enjoy equal protection under the law. But overall, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. And then there's the humorous side to all this. One time, for instance, I was using a public ladies' room when a hand reached right under the stall and a disembodied voice requested my business card.

I get letters from people all the time. They say, "We don't know who to turn to. You're our last hope. We know you'll listen to us," and they know that because they've seen me so often on television. They know that I am a strong advocate for my clients, and that I care about them.

They know that I feel the same way about women as Rosa Parks felt about equal rights for African-Americans. In employment, in their families, in the political world, women deserve to sit equally with men in the front of the bus. That is what this is about.

I was raised in a little row house in Philadelphia. My father was a door-to-door salesman; my mother was a full- time homemaker. Neither of them had more than an eighth- grade education. When I attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, I was told by my teachers, many of whom were women, that we were the future lawyers, bankers, and elected officials. I had never heard anything like that before. It was quite startling, really. Then I was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania, where I was in the honors English program. I also got married. As a matter of fact, I met my husband as a freshman, married him as a sophomore, gave birth as a junior, and divorced him as a senior. My father called that the college of hard knocks.

When I became a lawyer, I decided to volunteer some of my time to the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women. I felt I needed to give something back. Then, about a year later, I was asked to run for president of the local chapter, and I won. During those early years after law school, the National Women's Political Caucus, another group in which I was active, asked me to do a news conference to criticize the governor for not appointing more women judges. I said, "Why do you want me to do a news conference? Number one, I don't know what a news conference is. Number two, I wouldn't know what to say. Number three, I wouldn't know where to go. Number four, no one has ever heard of me, so why would they listen to what I have to say? And number five, can't somebody else do it who has more experience?" And they said, "Look, do you want to do anything for the cause?" And I said, "Of course." And they said, "Well, we've decided you're it. Just show up at this time and this place, and we will give you what you're supposed to read." I did, and the news conference was successful. Shortly after that, the governor, who at the time was Jerry Brown, appointed more women judges. Then the group came back to me and said, "We're going to do it again, and you're going to do it again." So we did it again, and then Brown appointed more women judges. Anyway, it wasn't until much later that I figured out why they chose me. It wasn't because I was so terrific. It was because everybody else wanted to be appointed to a commission, an agency, a board, or a judgeship, and they didn't want to ruin their chances by alienating the governor. It worked out just fine for me, though, because I never wanted to be appointed to anything. It's not what I wanted to do.

Another thing that happened after I became president of the local NOW chapter is that I started to get calls from the press. They would say they needed someone to come to their TV studio to talk about prostitution, or another issue involving women's rights, and I'd say, "I don't really know anything about that," and they'd say, "We can't get anybody else. Would you please come down and do it." So I thought, "Well, okay, it is a women's rights issue. I'll just go to the library and try to educate myself."

In doing this kind of work, I didn't have any role models. In fact, at the time, I didn't know many women lawyers at all. So I developed my own concept of who I thought I should be. I would describe her as a strong woman, an assertive woman, a woman who could be at ease with the questions thrown at her, but I didn't actually feel like I was that person. I mean, I've had times in my life when I thought, "God, I wish I could call Gloria Allred," but then there came a time when I realized, "Well, maybe I actually have become that person." It wasn't a sudden thing. It was more evolutionary than revolutionary.

I am very protective of my clients, especially when they're under attack. There is an adrenaline rush. My whole body gears up. It's fight or flight. Only I fight.

Take Amber Frey. She was the key prosecution witness in the Scott Peterson trial, and as her attorney it was my job to protect her against supporters of the defense whose agenda was to destroy her so that either she wouldn't testify or wouldn't be able to testify effectively. That was how the game was being played. Our media strategy was to respond as soon as possible to false statements. We also worked with another law firm to win an injunction against those attempting to distribute nude photographs of her without her consent. And we invested a significant amount of time guiding her through the criminal justice system so that she would know what to expect, which in the end would help ensure a just result for both her and the case. We believe we accomplished our goals.

Of course, I get criticized. But you have to understand that there are people who work to win change, and then there are people who criticize those who work to win change. Maybe they're rich; maybe they're successful. Maybe they would like to be rich or successful. I don't know what their problems are, but as I view it, it's more of a statement about them than it is about me. It's also a tactic, an attempt to discourage me, demoralize me, intimidate me, and make me stop what I'm doing. It doesn't work. I recognize it for what it is, and I don't let it deter me for a second.

We have a saying in the women's movement that a woman should become the person she wanted to marry. It doesn't mean become a man. It means if you value strength in your partner, try to develop that strength in yourself. If you value a sense of humor in a partner, try to develop that sense of humor in yourself, and if you wanted to marry a lawyer, become a lawyer. I've taken that advice to heart.

The Cowboy
You have to go as far back as 1969 to find a case that Gerry Spence lost. Among his more famous clients, there was Imelda Marcos, Idaho separatist Randy Weaver, and the family of Karen Silkwood. He is also the author of 15 books, and over the years he has been a regular guest on both Larry King Live and Geraldo.

We meet for lunch one afternoon at a seaside restaurant that is about a ten-minute drive from a second home that he owns in Santa Barbara. Spence is 76 years old now, and though he doesn't show up wearing his trademark fringe jacket, there's still a larger-than-life, John Wayne quality about him. "Will I get sick if I order the burger?" he asks the waitress flirtatiously. He then draws my attention to the ocean in front of us, which, as he observes, is just rough enough to be interesting.

I'm not a humble person. No one would accuse me of that. But this notion of being famous doesn't match up with my sense of self. Nor do I draw a big distinction, say, between cases like Silkwood or the defense of Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge and the cases I used to try in a tiny courthouse in Wyoming. They were all big cases to me then, and the cases I've tried since haven't been more important.

The big difference between then and now is that when people look at me they see a man with a long string of victories, who has a definite persona on television, who's written lots of books, and who's attracted more attention than he deserves. But that said, when I win a case, two thoughts still run through my head. One is: "A really good lawyer could have done better." The other is, "Thank God I won, because I couldn't bear the pain of losing." I don't know what I'd do if at the end of a trial a couple of marshals were to come down and throw their chains around my client, and then as he's being hauled out of the courtroom, he gives me a look as if to say, "You failed me, you didn't do well enough." The worst times in my life have been waiting for the jury's verdict.

I suppose I suffer from what the psychologists call an "imposter complex." When I win a case, I often feel as if I didn't deserve to win. My clients don't feel that way, my associates don't. But I often do. Perhaps it's part of growing up in a tiny western town and then bursting onto the national scene. Must be something wrong somewhere. Right?

People tell me that I'm intimidating. Particularly women. I understand that I'm tall, that I've got a big voice, and that I have what they call a commanding presence. So, intellectually, I know that all of that can scare people. But emotionally it's hard for me to appreciate. I've never gone into a courtroom without being afraid. My guts are churning; I'm super alert and bracing for the attack. I sometimes feel like that little scared guy behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.

How do I explain that I haven't lost a jury trial since 1969 and that I've never lost a jury trial in a criminal case? It's partly because many of the lawyers I go up against don't know how to try a lawsuit. They come into court with huge reputations. Maybe they've gone to Harvard or Yale; they may have graduated at the top of their class. But too often they are caught up in their intellectualisms, so walled off from the emotional side of their brains that they really can't communicate with ordinary people. They've forgotten how to feel. Some can't do a simple cross-examination, and they can't tell the story of their case or relate to their clients or the jurors. I think Harvard, Yale-places like that-actually stymie much of what it takes to become a success as a trial lawyer. Indeed, most law schools do. I went to the University of Wyoming, which probably ruined me as little as any law school could, yet all the while, they were trying to model the school after Harvard or Yale.

The media portrays me as some sort of cowboy. It's like I'm this lawyer who came from the sticks who's able to take on anybody or anything. And I do wear this fringe jacket (out of court), which has become sort of my trademark. My wife, Imaging, makes them. When I was growing up, my mother made my coats out of the hides of the game my father killed. They weren't stitched very well because my mother put them together on this old Montgomery Ward sewing machine that could barely work through the leather. But to wear something my mother made for me carried with it a sense of love and protection. So it is with the fringed jackets Imaging makes for me.

I spent my first 17 years practicing law in a small Wyoming town of about 5,000 people. Then the Silkwood case came along, and all of a sudden I got national attention. Many years later, after other famous cases and a lot of appearances on national TV, I tried a show of my own. We did it in my kitchen in Wyoming, and we used the rest of the house as a backdrop. Just before the show was cancelled, I decided to expose every politician who took money from the tobacco industry. Each week I would name someone new. Then, suddenly, the show was cancelled. Probably didn't have good enough ratings.

Yes, I've turned down some highly publicized cases-ones that everyone has heard of. When I was considering one of these, I went to a close friend of mine and asked him what he would think of me if I took on this particular case. He said he wouldn't feel very good about it. I asked why. He said this defendant had plenty of money to hire whomever he wished. He said, "You should be out there defending people who can't afford you." So I took a death penalty case instead, and in the end we got the kid committed to life in a state hospital for the insane, without a trial.

I have been at this for 53 years. I still try cases, but I look for cases with a larger value to the system. I created and carry on my Trial Lawyers College, our school for trial lawyers for the people, not corporate or government lawyers. My lawyer staff and I are pro bono. I have a new book out entitled Win Your Case, which incorporates much of my teaching at the Trial Lawyers College. I write nearly every day, and I keep discovering new things about myself. Life is about discovering who we are. I call it my archaeological dig of the self. As far as I can tell, I haven't even come close to hitting bottom yet.

The Newcomer
Last year was a big year for Mark Geragos, but not a particularly successful one. First he was fired by rock star Michael Jackson. Then he saw his client, Scott Peterson, sentenced to death. Geragos, who first rose to national prominence during the 1990s when he represented Susan McDougal during the Whitewater investigation, hadn't ever experienced anything like the Peterson trial. But the 47-year-old superstar lawyer didn't spend any time brooding about the outcome. In fact, by the time I caught up with him in late March, he had gotten involved in three new cases, two of which had already ended in acquittals. One involved an assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer; the other was a complex white-collar embezzlement case.

Geragos's office is on the 39th floor of a high-rise in downtown Los Angeles. Fifteen lawyers work for the firm, all of whom have their business cards lined up across the receptionist's desk. Also on the desk is a sign that says that American Express is welcome. (He accepts Visa and MasterCard as well.) On the opposite wall, framed clippings from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Daily Journal recount Geragos's triumphs. There is also a picture of him taken during a Larry King Live interview.

As I enter his cluttered, glass-enclosed office, Geragos is on the phone while simultaneously conferring with the stocky, gray-haired man who's standing beside him. Without a word, the man is presenting Geragos with a large open book that has some numbers in it. Geragos nods and then assures the person on the phone that he will get a civil engineer to the courthouse in time to testify. The impression I have of him is that he is a man in constant motion.

I never sought fame, but I always assumed that if I strived to be the best at what I do, one day I would be recognized for my work. And now that I am where I am, I must say I do enjoy some of the perks. Like being able to go into a restaurant without a reservation or being able to fly around the country to talk to groups who actually pay to hear me tell the same old war stories that I've been telling for years.

Yes, there's also a downside, and recently I was reminded of that when some ace investigative reporter at the Orange County Register wrote that I had been spotted cutting in line at a hot dog cart to buy a Diet Coke. I also remember the time that the police showed up at my home to defuse a pipe bomb that was planted in my front yard.

Still, I've always thought that being a lawyer was the greatest job in the world. And for that I blame my father. He worked as a prosecutor, and from the time I was five years old, he would cart me around to the various courthouses. So from a very early age I was programmed with the idea that I could shoot my mouth off and make a living at it, which seemed a lot better than waiting on tables-a distinct possibility given my less-than-stellar grades.

I read every lawyer biography that I could get my hands on, and what these lawyers all seemed to have in common was this passion, bordering on addiction, for trial work and the incredible highs and lows that went with it. And to this day that's exactly what I love about my job.

Of course, at this point, I've been through more than my share of media circuses. Each of the two Susan McDougal trials that I tried made the front page repeatedly because of her relationship with Bill Clinton and the Whitewater scandal. My representation of Gary Condit during the Chandra Levy investigation was also a nonstop staple for the cable news networks. And when I represented Winona Ryder, one media wag sarcastically referred to it as "the shoplifting trial of the century."

But nothing I was involved in ever came close to the amount of interest generated over the Scott Peterson trial. And to this day, I can't explain why. I don't think anyone can. I mean, well before dawn there were people lining up outside the courthouse-people from all over the county who, on their own dime, had come to Redwood City on the slim hope that they would win the lottery that was conducted each morning on the courthouse steps to ration out the limited number of public seats available. It was like when I used to work as a rock concert promoter. As soon as we would announce a new show, people would pitch tents right outside the box office so they would be able to purchase their tickets first thing in the morning.

Early on in the Peterson trial, I made the tactical decision to ask that cameras not be allowed in the courtroom. My feeling was that by keeping the cameras out, we could decrease the media coverage. A sort of out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy. Unfortunately, I underestimated the media's insatiable appetite for this case. And with the confluence of cable television, morning talk shows, and People magazine (the axis of evil for any criminal defendant) it became impossible for anyone to go more than an hour without hearing something negative about Peterson.

Actually, I like the press, and I've certainly been known to use it on occasion to help my clients. But on television we now have what I call the Foxification of the criminal justice system. Court TV is particularly atrocious: Pravda for the prosecution. In fact, during the Peterson trial one of the supposedly neutral reporters was openly rooting for Scott's conviction.

As you might expect, after the Peterson case went the way it did, I got a lot of "I told you so's." But the most vocal were the members of my own office. We have a pretty wild and woolly culture around here: a no-holds barred, World Wrestling Federation of intellectual gymnastics, with what we affectionately refer to as a nonstop slam fest of insults. So, when I first came up with the idea of disappearing for a year to do this one case, there was no holding back on what people thought. It was a near mutiny. Obviously, from a strictly monetary standpoint, there were far more profitable ways that I could have spent the time. However, there is an oath that every attorney in this state must take, and it says that you should never refuse to represent the reviled and the oppressed just because they are reviled and oppressed. I take that oath seriously.

I also fervently believed from the very beginning that Scott Peterson was innocent, and today, after seeing the evidence at trial, I believe it more than ever. Problem was, I couldn't convince twelve people, and for that I blame myself. But Scott Peterson was convicted long before he ever set foot in the courtroom, and even the trial judge recognized how out of control the situation was when he remarked how the torrent of prejudicial publicity was "a problem without a solution." Maybe he was right. But I am not sure everything was done that could have been done to ensure a fair trial. And I certainly don't think for a moment that the conviction will be upheld.

Was I depressed about the verdict? Absolutely. I had done some 50-odd murder cases before Peterson, and in not one of them was the defendant convicted and sentenced to first-degree murder, let alone sentenced to death. So, my personal therapy for losing in such a public way has been quite simple, really: It's to go back to trial-to try as many cases as possible and get as many wins under my belt as I can. I've won two acquittals since the Peterson trial. And though they didn't get the media attention that Peterson got, they were every bit as important to my clients ... and to me

Martin Lasden is a senior editor at California Lawyer..


Martin Lasden

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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