Dershowitz on Dershowitz

Celebrated lawyer and Harvard Law School professor tells tales of his life and the law.

By Peter E. Howard
UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 18, 2013) — He told Patricia D. White, dean of the University of Miami School of Law, that he had no regrets.

And why should he? He has had a successful career as a professor, lawyer and writer. Met and defended famous people. Won more than 30 murder cases.

“I tend not to be a regretting type of person,” he said. “I always have been a forward-looking person. I’m not a regretter.”

Celebrated lawyer Alan Dershowitz – Harvard Law School professor, political commentator and author – took center stage Friday night in a spirited conversation with White at the BankUnited Center Fieldhouse attended by several hundred people and presented by the University and Books & Books. He was there to promote his latest book, “Taking the Stand, My Life in the Law,” and he engaged the audience with tales about the famous and not-so-famous while name-dropping an A-list of clients and acquaintances, such as Vice President Joseph Biden, Larry King and, oh yes, O.J. Simpson.

He quickly warned the audience not to “expect any modesty from me tonight,” and went on to explain that his new autobiography begins with the day he was born and ends with a letter to the editor to be published after his death that “complains about the obituary.”

“Because I always have to have the last word,” he said.

Dershowitz took the bait of leading questions from White that allowed him to expound on his successes, his areas of expertise in law and his love of his new home in South Beach, filled with culture, wonderful beaches, great food and terrific people.

In his book he discusses race, the delineation between church and state, and the First Amendment, his specialty. He sprinkled in quick stories of growing up in Brooklyn, NY, growing up as an Orthodox Jew, and searching for his eventual career.

“I always wanted to be a First Amendment lawyer before I knew what the First Amendment was,” Dershowitz said.

He dealt with cases involving pornography and national security, and shared his opinion that he doesn’t agree with the findings of the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“In the end, all secrets have to come out,” he said. “The question is when.”

When he takes on a case, Dershowitz said, he assumes his clients are guilty as charged. The easiest to win, he added, are murder cases where a client is sitting on death row because judges will look at them more closely. About half the cases he takes, the clients pay; the other half involve pro bono work.

Then White asked Dershowitz about why he took the case involving Leona Helmsley, the former hotel “Queen of Mean” convicted in 1989 of income tax fraud. He recounted how he met her at a restaurant, and how she demeaned and berated a waiter who had delivered a cup of coffee with a little bit of liquid spilled into the saucer. She took the cup and saucer, smashed them on the ground and told the waiter to get on his knees and beg for his job.

After witnessing her tirade, he told her that was the last time he would be seen in public with her, outside the courthouse.

“Talk about regrets,” an animated Dershowitz told White. “I regret that. She was a terrible person.”

Peter E. Howard can be reached at 305-284-8085.

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