F. Lee Bailey Loved the Limelight, and He Represented Plenty of Famous People

F. Lee Bailey was one of the most famous defense attorneys in the world, but what were the most famous cases he took on in his career?


Jun. 4 2021, Published 10:49 a.m. ET

F. Lee Bailey
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As reflection begins on F. Lee Bailey's legacy following the news of his death, there are a number of cases that he took part in that are worthy of reflection. Although he was an attorney by trade, F. Lee represented a number of hugely famous people over the course of his career, and he became notorious in part for his desire to bask in the limelight.

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What were F. Lee Bailey's most famous cases?

Sam Sheppard — the first major case of F. Lee's career came when he was hired to help with the appeal in the case of Sam Sheppard, who was found guilty of murdering his wife in 1954. Sheppard's case was one of the inspirations for the TV show The Fugitive, and F. Lee successfully argued before the supreme court that Sheppard had been denied due process. He was given a new trial and was ultimately found not guilty.

f lee bailey famous cases
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Patty Hearst — following his success in the case of Sam Sheppard, F. Lee had a string of successful trials in which he cemented his reputation as a great defense attorney. While some of his subsequent cases were high-profile, none was as major as his defense of Patty Hearst in 1975. The newspaper heiress had committed armed bank robberies after she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army

F. Lee ultimately lost the case, and famously spilled water on himself during his closing argument. In her memoir, Hearst wrote that she suspected Bailey had been drinking prior to making his argument. Hearst was sentenced to 7 years in prison, but only served 22 months before she was pardoned by President Jimmy Carter.

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O.J. Simpson — few trials could eclipse the attention F. Lee received during the trial of Patty Hearst, but the trial of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman certainly managed that feat. F. Lee held numerous press conferences throughout the trial to discuss the case, and his most high-profile moment came when he cross-examined detective Mark Fuhrman, and got him to swear that he'd never used the n-word to describe Black people.

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F. Lee's cross-examination was considered one of the keys to Simpson's ultimate acquittal, as his all-star defense team was able to prove that Mark Fuhrman had used the n-word in the past. Simpson's case was one of the most famous of all time, and F. Lee was one of several lawyers who aided in his defense.

How did F. Lee Bailey get disbarred?

Even after his prolific career, F. Lee was ultimately disbarred in Florida in 2001 and then a year later in Massachusetts after he handled millions of dollars of stock owned by a convicted drug smuggler in 1994. F. Lee held onto the stock even though it was supposed to be turned over as part of a civil forfeiture.

F. Lee knew the stock was supposed to dramatically rise in value, and so he held onto it, transferring it into his own account. This ultimately led him to be disbarred, and he stopped taking on high-profile cases at roughly the same time.

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