By Michael D. Sallah and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers
ORLANDO, FLA. — Johnny Cochran thinks that one of his colleagues on the O.J. Simpson “Dream Team” deserves a break.
“I’m betting on him,” Mr. Cochran said yesterday this week about F. Lee Bailey, thea famed lawyer whose disbarment has been recommended in Florida. “I think he’s going to come out all right in this.”
Mr. Bailey, who assisted Mr. Cochran in Mr. Simpson’s double- murder trial, is accused of taking millions of dollars worth of stock from one of his clients, convicted drug smuggler Claude Duboc, and refusing to turn it over to federal prosecutors.
“I have a lot of concern for what’s going on with Lee,” Mr. Cochran said. “But you’ve got to know Lee, and he is a survivor.
And he’s going to fight this, I’m sure.”
The charges facing Mr. Bailey could put an end to his legendary legal career. In 1996, he spent more than 40 days in jail on a contempt charge related to the Duboc case. Last month, a Florida judge recommended that Mr. Bailey be disbarred permanently for his actions.
Mr. Cochran is in Orlando to represent several clients suing Disney in an intellectual-property dispute.
He said that the Florida courts should consider Mr. Bailey’s lengthy history as a lawyer-including high-profile clients such as Sam Sheppard and Patricia Hearst – in determining his fate.
“They have got to consider his long career, a great career, and his contributions to the law,” he said.”That’s got to stand for something. He’s been a lawyer for a long time.”
But Mr. Bailey’s history as a lawyer has not always been good. In 1970, a Massachusetts judge censured him and considered disbarment because of Mr. Bailey’s habit of talking to the news media about his cases. The next year, his privileges to practice law in New Jersey were suspended for a year.
Jeffrey Cohen, a University of Miami law professor who specializes in legal-malpractice law, said the Florida high court is unpredictable when it comes to bar recommendations and sometimes “can completely differ with a referee’s findings.”
Mr. Cohen, a former chairman of the Dade County Bar grievance committee, said lawyers have been disbarred on charges similar to Mr. Bailey’s. But he said that while “records of honor and trustworthiness will and should figure into this,” he does not think Mr. Bailey’s celebrity status will help him. “I don’t think he’ll be treated any differently.”
A spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court said he expects a decision on the disbarment to “come fairly quickly.”
Craig Waters said the court is in its summer recess until Monday. Chief Justice Charles Wells would be able to act on the disbarment during the recess by consulting with the other justices, but it is unlikely he would go to such extraordinary lengths.
After the recess, a death-penalty case will be the court’s top priority, Mr. Waters said, but the Bailey case likely will be resolved shortly thereafter.