Friday, August 9, 2019

Essay: Dershowitz, Epstein, and the Perpetual Perils of Representing ‘The Dregs of Humanity’

“He had won acquittals for some of the most loathsome human beings on the planet. Yet not content to shrug and say that he had simply been upholding the purity of rights guaranteed by the Constitution, he insisted on going the unnecessary further step and proclaiming in front of cameras that his smirking client, shoes still sticky with his victim’s blood, was ‘totally innocent’ and, ‘really, a terrific human being.’

“Even colleagues who hadn’t lost a minute’s sleep in long careers spent defending the dregs of humanity shook their heads in wonder at Alan Crudman’s amazing protestations on behalf of his clients. Could he really have convinced himself of their innocence? Impossible. Too smart. It had to be more complicated: He had graduated to telling the big, big lies, daring God to challenge him. This fooled no one, but the media ate it up. The T.V. talk shows loved it. It got them callers galore. And Alan Crudman was never too busy to go on television, on any show, to comment about anything at all. If the Weather Channel invited him to go on to discuss the legal implications of a low-pressure system over Nebraska, he’d be there as long as they sent a limo for him. A short man, he demanded big vehicles.”— Christopher Buckley, No Way To Treat A First Lady (2002)

The accompanying photo should have been enough to clue you in, Faithful Reader, that the legal eagle in today’s quote was Alan Dershowitz. But, after Christopher Buckley’s spot-on description, were you ever really in any doubt? The surname of the media-obsessed attorney is the thinnest—but most hilarious—of fictional fig leaves over his reputation. 

At the time Buckley satirized Dershowitz, it was only a few years after the longtime Harvard academic had loudly championed a horndog, lying Democratic President facing investigation and impeachment. 

Two decades later, the political parties in charge of the House of Representatives and the White House have traded places, but one thing hasn’t changed: Dershowitz is still defending a horndog, lying President. 

And he’s still making people shake their heads, not merely for taking on controversial clients (Clarence Darrow specialized in this, of course), but also for trying to incinerate accusers’ reputations.

But there is a key difference between now and then: these days, it’s Crudman (I’m sorry—Dershowitz) who finds himself under attack—not only for negotiating a hideous “non-prosecution agreement” with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami that allowed then-client Jeffrey Epstein to serve a ridiculously light sentence for his sex crimes, but for allegedly being so friendly with the money manager that Epstein passed along a couple of his underage victims.

Perhaps the civil litigation involving Dershowitz and accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre will resolve these latter charges—if they’re not settled first (as a prior suit was). But in the meantime, Connie Bruck’s New Yorker profile has been so lacerating that Dershowitz has launched a preemptive strike against what he terms a “hit piece.” 

If you don’t chuckle over Dershowitz’s self-pitying title, “J’accuse” (in the 1898 piece that inspired it, novelist Emile Zola spoke out for Alfred Dreyfus, not himself), or the notion that Dershowitz is inveighing against a “partisan effort by a giant of the media to stifle the marketplace of ideas” (what is Dershowitz’s latest preferred media outlet, Fox News, if not “a giant of the media”?), you’ll laugh yourself silly as he extols his “perfect, perfect sex life.” (As for the latter claim: He undoubtedly blesses the fact that under law, a wife cannot be compelled to testify against her husband.)

Much like the current President he’s been defending, Dershowitz reveals himself in all his thin-skinned, egocentric ignominy, defeating every attempt by Buckley and every other satirist to make him more laughable than he makes himself.   

I am sure that The New Yorker vetted Bruck’s piece not just with its editors and fact-checkers but its lawyers. The profile can hardly be seen as flattering (the dissolution of his marriage to first wife Sue Barlach—including a contentious divorce—especially does not reflect well on him), but one might argue that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. After all, Bruck did not mention a particularly revolting defendant from early in Dershowitz’s career: nursing-home magnate Bernard Bergman, who went to jail on Medicare and tax fraud charges.

Since he first grabbed the public’s attention, Dershowitz has styled himself a civil libertarian, and he is surely correct in claiming that defendants are entitled to a vigorous defense. 

But, no matter how controversial, even disreputable, some clients might have been for the likes of William Kunstler or Ramsey Clark, these attorneys made a point of representing them for ideological reasons. In contrast, it has become an increasingly notable element of Dershowitz’s career that, the richer and more powerful a client is, the more vigorous offense the lawyer mounts.

Claus von Bulow may have been the first of Dershowitz’s made-for-tabloids clients, but by now he is hardly the most notorious. The icy aristocrat has been followed and arguably surpassed in loathsomeness by Mike Tyson, O. J. Simpson, and Jeffrey MacDonald. While not representing them in court, Dershowitz has also loudly supported William Kennedy Smith, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

What’s the common denominator among these half-dozen figures? That’s right: they’re all males accused of violence against women. A strange streak, is it not? And this penchant for defending problematic men looks even dicier when associated with Dershowitz’s denunciations of both statutory-rape laws and prosecuting “johns” but not their prostitutes, as well as attempts to smear victims like Desiree Washington in the Mike Tyson case.

Can you understand now how #CreepyDershowitz might be trending so strongly recently on Twitter?

The Epstein case is particularly problematic. Dershowitz claims that, out of more than 250 cases in his career, this is the only one he regrets. 

But his claim that Epstein misled him about the extent of the allegations rings hollow. Even if he is correct that he had only heard about a half dozen possibly accusers, that is not insignificant. And, by the time the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami tried to bring charges, it had identified 34 potential victims. 

Moreover, it is hard to believe, given the constant stream of young women around Epstein’s home, that Dershowitz would not have guessed that his friend was playing with fire. 

In short, Dershowitz’s “regret” might result more from his own legal jeopardy than from any qualms about having taken on such an unsavory client. (I mean, come on: This is the same man who said, “Every honest criminal lawyer will tell you that he defends the guilty and the innocent.”)

Whenever Dershowitz appears on Fox to defend President Trump, are viewers told that Jeffrey Epstein—the same shadowy figure, the network has reported constantly, who was always around Bill Clinton—won a remarkably lenient deal from prosecutors a decade ago with the help of the man they're viewing on the screen now?

Does the willingness of these viewers to excuse the President for nearly everything also extend to this attorney-apologist?

Just curious.

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