F. Lee Bailey, the renowned defense attorney who once defended high-profile clients including OJ Simpson, died Thursday at 87. His death was confirmed to ethanb822.com by an employee at his consulting firm.
“It’s with a heavy heart that I confirm Mr. Bailey passed away today, June 3, 2021, just 7 days shy of his 88th birthday,” Jen Sisson said.
Bailey was known as an abrasive and engaging lawyer with a specialty for cross-examinations. The 87-year-old’s hard-hitting attitude in the courtroom led some to view him as a bully, while others held him in high regard as a fearless and cunning legal expert who would stop at nothing to help his clients.
Earlier in his life, Bailey was a Marine pilot and volunteered for the legal staff at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina, serving as the legal officer for over 2,000 troops.
Bailey kept a lifelong love of flying, owned 52 planes, and even his own aviation company. His military legal service led Boston University to waive his requirement for an undergraduate degree, allowing him to graduate early.
Bailey’s career of courtroom battles lasted four decades, beginning at the Boston University School of Law where he achieved the highest GPA in the school’s history, graduating in 1960 at the top of his class. He would go on to handle a variety of notable cases including the trials of bank robber Patty Hearst, US Army Captain Ernest Medina, and football star OJ Simpson.
Bailey helped secure a controversial acquittal for Simpson in 1995, leading the Heisman Trophy winner to declare him as the most valuable member of the “Dream Team”, Simpson’s star-studded legal team of trial lawyers, law professors, and childhood friends.
“He was able to simplify everything and identify what the most vital parts of the case were,” Simpson told the Boston Globe Magazine in 1996. “Lee laid down what the case’s strategy was, what was going to be important and what was not. I thought he had an amazing grasp of what was going to be the most important parts of the case, and that turned out to be true.”
Bailey helped deliver one of the most memorable moments of the trial when he cross-examined LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman in an attempt to paint him as a racist who planted evidence.
Fuhrman strongly denied using racial epithets when questioned by Bailey, however, Simpson’s defense team later uncovered 13 hours of taped interviews that included Fuhrman using racial slurs. The detective later asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege in response to a question regarding whether he planted or manufactured evidence.
Fuhrman’s hurtful words, denial of their usage, and assertion of his Fifth Amendment privilege delivered a crippling blow to the prosecution’s case. The detective later denied planting evidence, saying “there was never a shred, never a hint, never a possibility” of him doing so.
Despite his successes, Bailey’s career wasn’t always sunshine and roses. He was censured by a judge in 1970 for being “egocentric” and was disbarred in New Jersey a year later for talking publicly about a case.
In 1982, Bailey was arrested for drunk driving in California in what would become one of the longest DUI trials in San Francisco’s history. He was acquitted with the help of Robert Shapiro, who later worked alongside him on the OJ case. The trial led Bailey to write a book, How to Protect Yourself Against Cops in California and Other Strange Places, in which he accused police of serious abuse, hunting for DUI arrests, and going after celebrities due to “political pressure.”
Bailey’s credibility as a lawyer took a hit when he represented families of passengers on Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1983. Bailey made numerous public statements declaring his strong commitment to the case, however, spent much fewer hours on it than other firms involved did.
Bailey was disbarred in Florida in 2001, and in Massachusetts the next year, for improper handling of stock owned by a convicted drug smuggler in 1994. He served a six-week federal prison stint for contempt of court after he refused to turn over the stock in 1996.
He later passed the Maine bar exam in 2013 but was prohibited of the right to practice by the state’s supreme court. The high court ruled Bailey hadn’t demonstrated an understanding of the serious conditions that led to his disbarment in Florida and Massachusetts.
Later in life, Bailey operated several consulting services including the Bailey & Elliott consulting business and F. Lee Bailey Consulting. He offered numerous services to lawyers across the country that included investigation, trial preparation, and polygraph testing.
Bailey was married four times and divorced three. He had three children and his last wife passed away in 1999.