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May 04, 1984 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-05-04

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home of many Holocaust survivors.
"Look," he once told a woman at a
meeting of the Anti-Defamation
League in Boston, "I hate Nazis. I
hope they all get killed on the way to
the march. But I believe a civil
libertarian must defend the rights of
those he despises. This is as
important as defending the rights of
those with whom he agrees."
On civil liberties, Dershowitz
has called himself "an extremist"; he
would have made the more liberal
Founding Fathers proud. He would
also have made Voltaire, that apostle
the Englightenment, bust his
ittons with envy. It is better,"
wrote Voltaire, to risk saving a
guilty person than to condemn an
innocent person."
Zealous, committed, passionate,
Dershowitz has become one of the
lawyers of last resort in the United
States, occasionally defending
- clients whose guilt has been woefully
obvious or whose chances of acquittal
have been woefully slim.
In the legal constellation, he
ranks with the stars: the fictional
Perry Mason and the semi-fictional
F. Lee Bailey, who once hired
Dershowitz to defend him.
Dershowitz has rented out his
legal flair to Bernard Bergman,
whose nursing homes were said to be
the most vile in New York and whom
the Village Voice called the meanest
man" in the city. He handled the
appeal for Patty Hearst. Two springs
ago, Claus Von Bulow called
Dershowitz at seven in the morning.
"I need a lawyer. I need a friend. I
need help," the just-convicted
murderer of his socialite wife told
"I will not be your friend,"
Dershowitz told him. "I-probably-will
now like you. You probably will not
like me. But I will be your lawyer."
Dershowitz headed a team of 15
lawyers that handled Von Bulow's
appeal. After the Rhode Island
Supreme Court overturned Von
Bulow's conviction last week
because, it maintained, some
evidence had been illegally obtained,
Dershowitz said the prosecution's
"house of cards" against his client
would crumble. "There isn't enough
evidence," he said, "to bring a new
And noting that the private
investigator hired by the family of
Mrs. Von Bulow had withheld
certain evidence that would have
hurt the prosecution, Dershowitz
added, "Police work has to be left to
the police. The big lesson is that you'
can't have it both ways. You can't try
to circumvent constitutional
constraints by having private
vestigators do the work for you.
ills end run around the Constitution
didn't work. I think that's the
And he is the American lawyer
for Anatoly Shcharansky, the Soviet
Jew sentenced to ten years in prison
and another three years in a work
camp somewhere in the frozen Gulag.
Shcharansky's wife and mother had
both phoned Dershowitz to ask him to
represent the dissident, whose
arrest, they had been warned, was
imminent. "It was very smart of them
to get an American lawyer,"


Continued from Back- Page

Dershowitz told me in a phone
interview. "Only pressure from
outside Russia will ever get him out."

The press has had a field day
with Alan Dershowitz. Newsweek
called him "the nation's most

peripatetic civil liberties lawyer."
Time said he is "a sort of judicial St.
Jude" and, physically, "a cross
between Woody Allen and Bozo the
It's easy to make wisecracks
about Dershowitz, maybe too easy:

Friday, May 4, 1984


His positions on civil liberties can be
easily distorted. His Brooklyn
background lingers on in his accent,
his phrasing and his combativeness.
The man is a sitting target,
especially for those who shoot from
the quip.
One might expect a tenured
Harvard professor to observe the
dignities of his high office and seldom
stray from the hallowed groves of
academe. A few have braved the
world outside the intellectual
cloisters of Cambridge; ever fewer,
men like Henry Kissinger and
Patrick Moynihan, have survived the
encounter. But Moynihan gave up
his tenure for the U.S. Senate, and
Kissinger for the State Department,
dubious decisions at best. Dershowitz
prefers to straddle two worlds —
academics and an active law practice
— and he excels in both. He has
suggested, in fact, that tenure boosts
his freedom — and his responsibility
— as a lawyer.
Lawyers, he said, often hesitate
to take on judges because they appear
in court regularly and fear
retribution. Tenure insulates him
from the wrath of judges who are "the
weakest link in our system of justice
and also the most-protected." In fact,
the whole judicial system — "corrupt
to its core" — has come in for the
withering verbiage of Dershowitz.
The system is "built on a foundation
of not telling the truth." Cops lie.
They are even taught how to commit
perjury in police academies.
Prosecutors lie. Defendants lie.
Defense attorneys lie. Judges distort
"Most insiders — lawyers and
judges — won't talk" about how the
system works, Dershowitz said.
"Most outsiders — law professors and
journalists — don't really know how
the system works."
He commends the system for its
ultimate justice: "There are very few
innocent people in American prisons
today. The ends of justice are well
served. But the means of justice are
in serious trouble. And if the
means are abused, the ends will be
abused. We allow police to do far too
often what they please to people in
custody. We don't probe misconduct.
"Plea bargaining goes on
because the prisons are overcrowded.
One of the secrets of criminal justice
is to always commit crimes with
people who are less important than
you. Therefore, you always have
somebody to turn in and you can
avoid justice."
Dershowitz is no legal
wallflower. He has appeared on every
television network, including PBS.
He has sparred with Barbara
Walters, Edwin Newman, William
Buckley. He has been on "Today" and
"Tomorrow." He has been faulted for
his ego and praised for his
But the man whose verbatim
interviews have filled reams of
national magazines and whose
bushy-haired countenance has filled
TV screens coast-to-coast is not the
man his childhood was supposed to
have fathered. There was nothing
distinctive about the young
Dershowitz, nothing promising. He



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