When you buck the system as often as F. Lee Bailey, the system is going to exact its pound of flesh. Bailey is a bit of a shady character perhaps, but he’s also proven to be an asset to those who hired him to defend them. That would include O. J. Simpson.
Johnnie Cochran is dead.
Marcia Clark writes murder mysteries.
Judge Lance Ito is retired.
Kato Kaelin tweets a lot.
And F. Lee Bailey, the famed criminal defense attorney, is flat broke.
On Thursday, O.J. Simpson – the NFL icon who brought them together more than two decades ago – will be in court for a parole hearing on a Nevada robbery conviction. But of all the characters who played a role in Simpson’s unforgettable acquittal for the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, no one’s life has changed as dramatically as Bailey’s.
By changed, we mean cratered.
Bailey joined Simpson’s defense team with a courtroom résumé that even Perry Mason would be jealous of. Bailey got neurosurgeon Sam Sheppard a new trial on charges he brutally killed his wife – and a not-guilty verdict. He defended fugitive newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, the “Boston Strangler” and scores of other accused murderers. He was rich, flew on private jets and even played himself in a movie.
Today he lives with a hairstylist in Maine. At 83, he works above her salon.
“I won’t say it’s depressing, because I don’t think I ever get depressed,” Bailey told writer Andrew Goldman in a remarkable profile this month in Town & Country magazine.
The story details Bailey’s life post-O.J. – not just his remarkable fall but also his steadfast belief that a Los Angeles jury reached the correct verdict in acquitting the actor and Hertz pitchman of killing Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Last year, Bailey filed for bankruptcy after a string of scandals inside and outside the courtroom left him disbarred and shamed. He was accused of misappropriating funds from his defense of an alleged drug dealer.
Here’s what he had left: a 1999 Mercedes station wagon (gold, of course).
Unable to practice law, Bailey runs a consulting business above the salon. His office is decorated with models of jets he once owned. But to the fine people of Yarmouth, Maine, Bailey is still famous, a courtroom legend in their midst.
The Town & Country writer had lunch there with Bailey, who ordered a pinot grigio:
Bailey tried to return to the courtroom, but he has been turned down, even after passing the bar exam not long ago in Maine. His old lawyer pals, including Alan Dershowitz, have a not-so-complicated legal theory about why.
“Without a doubt,” Dershowitz told Town & Country. “I think it was a major factor in the vindictive way in which he’s been treated.”
Bailey won’t object to that one.
“People at every level, judges on down, pointed the finger and said, ‘If you hadn’t prostituted your talents for this guy, he would have gone to jail,’ ” he told Town & Country.