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Transcript

F. Lee Bailey looks back on his legal career

CNN Legal Analyst Greta Van Susteren interviewed controversial criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey about his storied legal career. The interview took place on August 9.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, I'm Greta Van Susteren. Welcome to an online interview with F. Lee Bailey, one of the most famous criminal defense lawyers in American history. Career highlights include Patty Hearst, the Boston Strangler, Dr. Sam Sheppard and, of course, O.J. Simpson.

F. Lee Bailey, thank you for joining me today. Lee, in terms of your career, everyone knows about your high-profile criminal cases. But you've had an awful lot of major civil cases. But looking back over your career, what's the most exciting time in your career? What are you most proud of?

F. LEE BAILEY: I think probably the years in the late sixties to early seventies encompassed Dr. Sheppard, Boston Strangler, the Great Plymouth Mail Robbery, which was then the largest in the history of the country, and Captain Ernest Medina. Things were really bopping in that four-year period. And then, of course, right after the Medina case, my first book came out, hit the best-seller list, and I was rolling.

GVS: You know, Lee, we have highs and lows as lawyers. We win, we lose. What's the low point?

FLB: The low point, very frankly, was when my wife passed away last year. It was a difficult thing to watch over a 13-month period. I literally shut my practice down, rejected almost all new cases in order to chase around the world trying to find a solution to a disease that has no solution. But those things happen. And then, of course, my mother passed right after that. It was kind of a double hit. And the federal courts and the bar have tried to sweeten the pot, and I just have to keep thinking of Winston Churchill, who said, "never give in."

GVS: Lee, have the federal courts and the Florida Bar -- have they been fair to you or unfair?

FLB: Well, I don't think they've been fair at all, but since the matter's still on appeal, I'm not going to surface my brief. The last decision from the federal judge in Orlando, Florida, followed the law, and I didn't like the language in it, but I think the result was acceptable. She rolled back a very unfair recommendation by a magistrate. And I'm hoping the Supreme Court will roll back what I consider to be a very unfair recommendation by the referee. Meanwhile, my standing is that I'm a member in good standing with the Florida and Massachusetts Bars, and will continue to practice, at least for now.

GVS: Lee, if you were a 22-year-old man today, and you were trying to figure out what kind of career F. Lee Bailey would like to have, what would you do?

FLB: Well, first of all, you couldn't duplicate my career if that were your decision, because times have changed so much. There were no public defenders when I started out. Everybody would rally around the criminal defendant and throw a few bucks in the pot, and it was exciting. It was a lot cleaner game, I think, then than it is now. And when it was rough and tumble, at least everybody knew it, and both sides played accordingly. It's become a lop-sided affair now. I would strongly recommend any young man to stay away from criminal law. It's not a good place to be, unfortunately.

GVS: But, Lee, would you be a lawyer? If you were just coming out of law school right now, would you even be a lawyer? Is there some other career that sort of, you know, interests you?

FLB: I'm not sure that I would. I enjoy criminal cases, at least some of them, and I used to more than I do now. I enjoy personal injury cases. I've tried quite a few of those. And, frankly, any kind of litigation that is trouble-shooting, whether it's equities, suits and injunctions, or whatever. But the flavor, it seems to me, has just gotten a little bit sour. I had opportunities to do other things in the aviation and marine fields. If I were starting over, I'd give serious thought to pursuing those.

GVS: What made you become a lawyer?

FLB: I was going to become a writer. I was going to Harvard, majoring in English. I went to flight school, became a marine. They ran out of lawyers. My name begins with B, then A, and I got volunteered a lot. When the legal officer resigned, they called me in and said you're now the legal officer, here's a book, go read it. And I found that I enjoyed it.

GVS: Jump ahead 50 years from now. How do you think history is going to characterize or describe the O.J. Simpson case?

FLB: Well, I'm very fearful about how they're going to do it. I've never been more shocked in my life than to find the reaction of the press, who were quite willing to say well, since we were so committed to the notion that he would be found guilty, since he wasn't found guilty, why, of course, we blame it on the jury, and we were right all along. And they sold that to the public, and subsequently, to an endorsement by a civil jury.

But, it is my fond hope, as it always was in the Sheppard case, a hope that came to fruition, that the right evidence will come out at some point, and that the right information will come out. And that those who have not figured out so far, because they don't really understand the case, that O.J. could not have murdered either Nicole Brown Simpson or Ron Goldman, will understand that someone else did. Otherwise, he has no salvation.

GVS: You have been one of O.J. Simpson's staunchest supporters and you're one of his best lawyers. What do you make of the fact, though, that between the criminal verdict and the civil trial, these photographs surfaced which appeared to have Bruno Magli shoes on the feet of O.J. Simpson?

FLB: Well, first of all, those photos were phonies. They were rejected by Marcia Clark, they were rejected by TIME magazine, and they were rejected, believe it or not, by the National Enquirer. But they were shoved in at the last minute in front of a judge that I don't think was being fair to O.J., and no one ever had a chance to answer them.

The investigation into the Bruno Magli shoes was worldwide, it's 3,500 pages, we have them all. They absolutely could not tie O.J. to anything but a pair of bedroom slippers made by Bruno Magli. And Pat McKenna could tell you up here for an hour explaining that, but I heard him explain it last night to a writer for New Times, and he has the facts that nail. Those shoes aren't there.

Editors Note: Spokespersons for the National Enquirer and TIME magazine tell CNN they did publish the photos in 1996 and 1997 respectively.

GVS: Are you 100 percent certain those photos of the shoes on O.J. Simpson's feet are phony?

FLB: I am sure to the extent that they purport to show Bruno Magli shoes that they are phony. I am satisfied, as I am that O.J. didn't kill anyone, that he never bought any Bruno Magli shoes, except the ones we found in his closet, and they hadn't been anywhere near any blood. And they weren't shoes, they were slippers.

GVS: All right, let me jump topics again. The Supreme Court. Who's the smartest, best Supreme Court justice we've ever had, in your mind?

FLB: You mean sitting now, or at any time?

GVS: Either.

FLB: Well, I give a lot of credit to the brilliance of Louis Brandeis, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Felix Frankfurter. I think as far as sheer brilliance is concerned, they must top the list. Hugo Black is not far behind, although a different kind of fellow. On the present court, I think Justice Antonin Scalia probably has the fastest intellect. And I enjoyed meeting and having dinner with the man, even though we somewhat disagree philosophically.

GVS: Is Justice Scalia, though, someone if you were president of the United States, as someone who you yourself would put on the bench? He's very conservative on issues of fundamental rights, at least from the criminal defense field.

FLB: Well, I think Justice Scalia is good as a balance. If I had a bench with a lot of conservatives on it, I would be very anxious not to see him appointed, because balance is what makes the Supreme Court at least livable. But the court is not terribly well-balanced now. The liberals have the short end of it, but I think it's coming into balance. Justice Scalia is predictable. He can be counted on to come down with a conservative opinion, and generally, to bring Justice Clarence Thomas with him.

GVS: F. Lee Bailey, thank you for joining me today. And thanks to our viewers for logging on to CNN.com. For more legal news and commentary, go to CNN.com/Law. And also visit the Burden of Proof home page at CNN.com/Burden.


CNN Legal Analyst Greta Van Susteren is Law Center Chief Legal Adviser and co-host of 'Burden of Proof'

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