F. Lee Bailey, one of the most famous criminal lawyers in U.S. history, died Thursday at 87.
The attorney’s oldest son, Bendrix Lee Bailey, told TMZ that his father died Thursday morning in Georgia, where he was in hospice. Bailey’s former law partner, Superior Court Judge Kenneth J. Fishman, also confirmed his death to the Boston Globe.
The family told TMZ that Bailey’s death was due to old age and unrelated to COVID-19.
Bailey was known for representing some of the country’s most notorious defendants in court, such as Sam Shepard, Patty Hearst, Albert DeSalvo (the “Boston Strangler”) and, most famously, O.J. Simpson.
During Simpson’s high-profile trial, Bailey partnered with Robert Shapiro, Robert Kardashian and Johnnie Cochran to help defend Simpson against almost-certain conviction — due to crime scene evidence presented in court — for two violent murders.
The defense team’s goal was to prove police bias, which Bailey successfully did in a dramatic moment in court with Los Angeles police Detective Mark Fuhrman. Bailey’s notoriously aggressive cross-examination of Fuhrman led to the discovery of the officer’s racist history, and inserted enough doubt in the jury to secure a not-guilty verdict for Simpson.
In a video posted Thursday to Twitter, Simpson remembered Bailey fondly.
“Lee, whenever he came out to Vegas often to speak at seminars on cross-examinations to young lawyers, he and I would go out. Now Lee was about 87 years old, but boy was he full of energy,” he said, adding that the attorney had recently completed a book about the infamous trial.
“He was great. He was smart, sharp as ever. F. Lee Bailey, maybe the best lawyer of our time, of our generation, but a great guy,” Simpson continued. “God bless his family. God bless you, Lee.”
Bailey’s celebrity trials fell in line with his extroverted, highly confident personality ― flying private jets to Hollywood parties, hosting his own TV programs, writing best-selling books, posing on the covers of Time and Newsweek. The press also reported on Bailey in a way that heightened his reputation, with glowing profiles in The New York Times and The New Yorker.
Bailey’s legal career eventually crashed due to legal and financial troubles. In 2001, Bailey was disbarred in Florida due to several counts of judicial misconduct. Massachusetts also disbarred him. In 2012, Bailey tried to save his legal career by passing the state bar exam in Maine but the state’s board of examiners refused to admit him. His appeal was rejected by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which narrowly held that Bailey “minimizes the wrongfulness and seriousness of the misconduct for which he was disbarred.”
“I don’t have to suffer through the indignities of sitting around a courtroom or waiting for other lawyers to argue things before I get my chance, nor do I have to get all prepared for a trial, down to the last detail, only to find out that it settles the next day because the client doesn’t feel like taking the risk of a jury verdict. So those things, I don’t miss,” Bailey told HuffPost in a 2019 interview.
“On the other hand, I am frequently hired as a consultant by trial lawyers and firms to review their cases and their intended approach, because they think a trial is likely, and I enjoy doing that work,” he continued. “As they say, ‘I know a thing or two, because I’ve seen a thing or two.’”