Democracy Dies in Darkness

Retropolis

O.J.'s last defender — F. Lee Bailey — is broke, disbarred and working above a hair salon

By Michael S. Rosenwald

October 1, 2017 at 9:10 AM

Former defense attorney F. Lee Bailey poses in his office in Yarmouth, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

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.

Early Sunday morning, O.J. Simpson — the NFL icon who brought them together more than two decades ago  — was released from a Nevada prison after serving nine years for a robbery conviction. Wearing jeans, a denim jacket and a denim cap, he was released shortly after midnight PDT from Lovelock Correctional Center in northern Nevada, state prisons spokeswoman Brooke Keast told The Associated Press.

"I don't have any information on where he's going," said Keast, who watched as Simpson signed documents and was let go. The dead-of-night release was designed to avoid a media scrum.

Related: [Quietly and with little attention, O.J. Simpson is released from prison early Sunday morning]

Simpson's attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, had described him in an interview with ABC News as eager to reunite with his family, eat steak, move back to Florida and get the latest iPhone.

Simpson had spoken during his July parole hearing, asserting that "I'm not a guy who has lived a criminal life."

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.

Watch more!
O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman in 1995. The investigation and trial lasted more than a year and included a number of memorable moments. Here are a few of them, starting with O.J.'s infamous car chase which took place June 17, 1994. (The Washington Post)

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.

Related: [Hugh Hefner, the murder of Dorothy Stratten and the dark side of Playboy]

Today he lives with a hairstylist in Maine. At 84, 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 in Town & Country magazine.

Defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, left, looks on as O.J. Simpson, center, reacts as he is found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman, in court in Los Angeles. (Pool photo by Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Daily News via Associated Press)

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.

Related: [The Ku Klux Klan was dead. The first Hollywood blockbuster revived it.]

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:

Next to him sits Debbie Elliot, his girlfriend of seven years. "A pretty good-looking 62," he remarks, an accurate assessment of the curvaceous salon owner, who is dressed in head-to-toe black, her platinum blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. Bailey, who in the 1970s wore sideburns so bushy they resembled a barrister's wig, now has thin white hair clipped close to the scalp, a side effect of cohabitation with a hairdresser.

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.

O.J.

"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.

Bailey used to keep in touch with Simpson, who would call to chat about life and, later, from jail, about how to get out. And then suddenly, after Simpson was convicted in the Las Vegas hotel room heist, the calls stopped.

"He says he was told that Simpson was warned by prison officials to steer clear of Bailey if he wanted to get on the good side of the parole board," Town & Country reported.

Accused murderers used to walk free with Bailey at their side.

Now they have a better chance if he stays just where he is, above the salon.

This post has been updated.

Read more Retropolis:

Hugh Hefner, the murder of Dorothy Stratten and the dark side of Playboy

JFK's last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht

Diana's final hours: Dodi's yacht, a Ritz suite, a diamond ring and relentless photographers

Blood in the water: Four dead, a coast terrified and the birth of modern shark mania

Mail that baby: A brief history of kids sent through the U.S. Postal Service

How a despondent veteran helped make the Golden Gate Bridge a suicide 

Six Nazi spies were executed in D.C. White supremacists gave them a memorial — on federal land.

Virginia Tech was not the worst school massacre in U.S. history. This was.


Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.

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