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Remembering F. Lee Bailey, Famed Trial Lawyer


Not so long ago, a kid at my house made a fierce and impressive argument about - I don't know - bedtime or something. And a name came into my head. I thought, that kid sounds like F. Lee Bailey. For generations, he has personified the high-profile defense lawyer. Bailey died yesterday at age 87, and NPR's Martin Kaste reports he was famous even before joining O.J. Simpson's defense in the 1990s.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Law professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson did TV commentary of the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. But she remembers seeing F. Lee Bailey much earlier, in 1976.

LAURIE LEVENSON: When I was a college student, I went up to San Francisco to watch the Patty Hearst case. And that was the - actually the first time I saw F. Lee Bailey in action. And by this time, he was already a legend.

KASTE: A legend because of the Sam Sheppard case, the Ohio osteopath who was convicted of killing his wife in the 1950s, whom Bailey got out of prison in a case that reached the Supreme Court in the '60s. Three decades later, in the Simpson murder trial, Bailey made his mark for his combative cross-examination of LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman.


F LEE BAILEY: There's a problem that's been brought to your attention, isn't there, Detective Fuhrman?


BAILEY: When discussing this event in the preliminary hearing and talking about the glove, his tongue slipped, and you said them, didn't you?

KENNETH FISHMAN: He used that personality together with incredible skills.

KASTE: Kenneth Fishman was Bailey's longtime law partner.

FISHMAN: He was brilliant. He had one of the most remarkable memories I've ever seen and a fair dose of chutzpah (laughter) to become, really, a model criminal defense attorney.

KASTE: Bailey's record was not perfect. Patty Hearst, the kidnapped heiress-turned-bank robber, was convicted, and she accused Bailey of sacrificing her defense for a book deal. And after the acquittal of Simpson, Bailey went to federal prison for contempt of court relating to his handling of stocks owned by a convicted drug smuggler. But in the long run, Levenson says Bailey will be remembered for the way he presented himself.

LEVENSON: I think F. Lee Bailey thought of himself as a living legend in the law, and that's what he portrayed in the courtroom.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.