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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Clients With Consequences

Attorney Alan Dershowtz via NYT
The above-the-fold story in last week's NYT Sunday Business section was about Alan Dershowitz. The famed criminal defense lawyer, former Harvard Law Professor, and author is going through some very difficult times in a situation directly related to his representation of a personal friend, plea-convicted of [reduced] sexual assault charges against a minor.

The plea called for the client, Jeffrey Epstein, to serve an 18-month prison sentence in Palm Beach, later commuted to just a year.  Due to his wealth and status, the deal, when it went down in 2006, was widely-seen as a wealthy Manhattan financier purchasing a miracle-result in the criminal justice system not available to the common man.

Ten-years ago, the allegations involved Epstein's exploits with paid underage escorts in his Palm Beach mansion. When the police came calling, Dershowitz says Epstein had to talk him into representing his one-time friend, not only due to the subject matter of the case, but also due to a lawyer's general reluctance to represent friends; by then, he had traveled the world with Epstein on a variety of business junkets.

For the defense, Dershowitz brought in Roy Black, Kenneth Starr and a few other heavy legal hitters; they went after the victim on the Internet and the prosecutor in the courtroom. Perhaps because of such aggressive lawyering, a plea deal was forged that some folks have never accepted.

Among those who have not accepted the Epstein plea deal is Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the 30-something blonde who, at age 17, was Epstein's former employee around the turn of the Century and, she says, his sex-slave. In a series of allegations in a federal civil law suit that challenges the Epstein plea agreement, Ms. Roberts claims Epstein passed her around to his friends for sex: friends like defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew, among others.

Roberts says she waited until last year to file the civil suit because she feared retribution from Epstein, with all his millions and all his powerful Manhattan connections.

Like Prince Andrew, Dershowitz is not a named defendant in the law suit and vehemently denies the veracity of Ms. Roberts' allegations. Dershowitz has filed a counter suit for defamation.

One complication for Dershowitz is that Ms. Roberts has now hired David Boies [of Bush v Gore fame] to prosecute her claims. First, Dershowitz claims that he spoke in detail about the case to a lawyer at Boies' firm for purposes of his own representation, so there is a conflict of interest for the firm. Next, Dershowitz testified in his deposition in October that Boies told him privately that he did not believe his own client's allegations and that his law firm would not have accepted the representation had they known she would name Dershowitz as a sexual perpetrator.

Boies claims he never said such a thing to Dershowitz or anyone else and that he remains committed to Roberts' civil cause of action; he filed responsive pleadings challenging Dershowitz's claims to the contrary. No word yet on how all that will end.

The point of all this is not to detail Alan Dershowitz's professional, and now personal, woes; many a lawyer has fallen from, or been knocked-off, their professional pedestal. Rather, the point of this tale is that taking on some clients have serious consequences.

When interviewed for the NYT Sunday Business section article, Dershowitz admits that he has had many second thoughts about the [purportedly large] fees he took to execute Epstein's defense in the paid escort assault case.

Every person accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, deserves a vigorous defense. Even setting aside whether the accused deserves a vigorous defense, the system depends on it.

When you are getting paid millions to defend someone accused of molesting underage girls, however, being a champion of the constitution will have some long-lasting consequences; just ask Dershowitz.

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