▶ Watch Video: F. Lee Bailey: An appreciation

Last week I was supposed to sit down for an interview with F Lee Bailey that would have aired on this program. As most of you probably know, Bailey died on June 3. He was 87.

For many lawyers like myself, Bailey was the one you wanted to emulate – or, if you were charged with a crime, the one you wanted to hire.

Boston attorney F. Lee Bailey (right) announces at a news conference in Cleveland, Ohio, on May 6, 1965 he has asked for a rehearing on a court order that Sam Sheppard (left) be returned to prison.

AP Photo

Francis Lee Bailey gained that reputation by winning trials, beginning with the case of Sam Sheppard, the Ohio doctor who became the inspiration for the TV series and movie, “The Fugitive.”

Sheppard, who was in prison for killing his wife, blamed the murder on an intruder. Bailey won him a new trial, and convinced the jury to acquit him the second time around. 

Bailey was equally comfortable before a judge or a TV camera. In the 1980s he even hosted his own television show, called “Lie Detector.”

He was charismatic, but could also be arrogant and abrasive, and was once censored for what a judge called his “extreme egocentricity.”

No one can win them all, and Bailey had some spectacular failures. He was Patty Hearst‘s lawyer when she was convicted of bank robbery. Hearst later accused Bailey of bungling her defense and drinking during the trial. 

And then came the “Trial of the Century.” 


Bailey was part of O.J. Simpson’s “dream team.” Bailey’s cross-examination of Detective Mark Furman helped Simpson get that not guilty verdict seen by the entire nation.  

But in recent years, Bailey was less a role model, and more a cautionary tale: When Bailey was ordered to turn over a client’s assets and refused, he was disbarred in Florida and in Massachusetts. The man who once owned airplanes and several homes filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

F. Lee Bailey couldn’t practice law anymore, but he could still write about it. With his new book “The Truth About the O.J. Simpson Trial,” he planned to take his case to you. He just ran out of time.

How will he be remembered? You’ll have to reach your own verdict.

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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Mike Levine.