There are a lot of different reasons you may have heard of F. Lee Bailey.
Perhaps it’s for the illustrious defense lawyer’s involvement in the Boston Strangler case. Or perhaps it’s for his work defending Patty Hearst or the captain allegedly responsible for the My Lai Massacre, or for successfully overturning a murder conviction in a Supreme Court case that is said to have inspired the movie The Fugitive.
But it’s most likely for his involvement on the defense team for O.J. Simpson.
Bailey was a member of the former football star’s “Dream Team” of attorneys during his 1995 murder trial, in which the famed defense lawyer had a central role in Simpson’s acquittal. His work on the case — recently portrayed by Nathan Lane in a FX mini-series — was most notably remembered for his cross-examination of police detective Mark Fuhrman and for challenging Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden to let Simpson try on the infamous glove.
But now, the Waltham native is disbarred, bankrupt and living above his girlfriend’s hair salon in Yarmouth, Maine, according to a recent Town and Country magazine profile.
“I don’t think he got fairly treated,” Bailey told Town and Country, “and I don’t think I got fairly treated. If that’s not a level of kinship, it’s certainly a level of identity. We have the O.J. curse in common, to a degree.”
The 84-year-old has spent much of his life in New England, going to prestigious prep schools in New Hampshire before attending Harvard University and Boston University School of Law. By the 1970s, Bailey was one of the country’s most famous lawyers. In 1971, he wrote his first book, a best-seller, The Defense Never Rests. By 1975, he even owned several luxury cars and a helicopter at his Marshfield home.
However, he was disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts in 2001 and 2003, respectively, for a plethora of misconduct charges involving the finances of a French drug smuggler he was defending. His effort to practice law in Maine, after moving to the state in 2012, was denied in 2014.
Bailey filed for bankruptcy in June 2016, owing more than $5 million to the IRS due to unpaid taxes.
Now, he runs a consulting firm with his girlfriend in Yarmouth. Per Town and Country:
Next to him sits Debbie Elliott, 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 and Elliott fell first in love, then into business, taking over the little apartment above Salon Debbie Elliott in a two-story shingled building in Yarmouth to open a business consultancy called Bailey & Elliott. Bailey often offers clients advice while Elliot trims their hair. “It’s very convenient,” he says.
Bailey also says he truly believes Simpson was innocent in the 1995 case, a statement to which other members of his defense team would not commit. The Washington Post recently called him Simpson’s “last defender.”
According to Town and Country, Bailey, as well as his longtime colleague Alan Dershowitz, believe the former’s role in Simpson’s acquittal has contributed to how he has since been treated by the legal field.
“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,'” Bailey told the magazine.
Following the decision by Nevada officials to grant Simpson parole from his prison sentence for robbery, Bailey told The Boston Globe he was not surprised.
“A lot of people, particularly white people who have a strong, usually uninformed view of the [murder case in the 1990s], think he is now serving the sentence he should have been serving in California, so ‘let him rot,'” he said, later adding, “My redneck friends … are very quick to say this isn’t much of a crime, but he’s getting what he deserves for beating the rap.”
According to Bailey, Simpson should have also been acquitted in the robbery case. The reason he wasn’t, the disbarred attorney told the Globe, was simple.
“He didn’t have a good lawyer,” he said.