Embattled Harvard Law professor emeritus and criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz responded to criticism over his history of defending controversial men, comparing the recent public backlash to “McCarthyism” and promising to continue representing the most unpopular and despised clients.
Dershowitz, who has a history of aggressively defending controversial celebrity clients such as O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, was thrust back into the cultural zeitgeist amid outrage over Jeffrey Epstein’s 2007 sweetheart plea deal. Epstein was arrested in July and charged for alleged sex trafficking of young girls.
Despite allegations that Epstein had sexually abused dozens of underage girls, Dershowitz and the rest of the high-powered legal team were able to secure Epstein a deal more than a decade ago that involved pleading guilty only to state solicitation of prostitution charges. Not only did Epstein get immunity from federal charges in Florida, the same was true for alleged co-conspirators. What resulted for Epstein was a 13-month jail sentence — much of which was spent outside of actual jail. Epstein’s work-release privileges allowed him to be let out for 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Although his recent attempts to defend his legacy have not been particularly well-received, Dershowitz penned an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post on Thursday, in which he styled himself as a defender of liberty who has been mischaracterized by the media for decades.
“I get my inspiration from the biblical Abraham, who defended the sinners of Sodom; John Adams, who defended the British soldiers accused of the Boston Massacre; Abraham Lincoln, who defended numerous controversial clients, some guilty, some not guilty; and my friend and mentor Leonard Boudin, who represented hated Communists during the McCarthy period,” Dershowitz wrote.
Dershowitz said that the repercussions faced by attorneys who have chosen to defend clients accused of horrific crimes — such as Epstein — threaten to erode the foundations of the American legal system.
“America is different – at least in theory. Our Sixth Amendment demands that every accused be afforded the right to counsel, but too many defendants are denied zealous representation because lawyers fear economic and political reprisal,” he wrote. “Lawyers who were part of the Epstein defense team have had their contributions to political candidates returned. Others have been threatened with loss of business. This is a dangerous development, reminiscent of McCarthyism.”
Dershowitz suggested that he’s been targeted in smear campaigns by members of the media because he did a tough job well.
“In other words, because I did my job well – getting my client the best result possible – I have now become a target of efforts to destroy my reputation and career,” he said.
Dershowitz said the “slings and arrows” will not prevent him from defending “even the most indefensible clients,” for the sake of the American legal system.
[image via ABC News screengrab]