F. Lee Bailey Tossed In Jail For Contempt Lawyer Fails To Turn Over Disputed Funds To Federal Court
F. Lee Bailey, who has spent his career trying to keep famous clients out of jail, was hauled away in handcuffs and leg irons Wednesday and began serving a six-month jail sentence for failing to produce $25 million in stock from a drug dealer he once represented.
U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul had given the 62-year-old defense attorney until 5 p.m. to come up with the $2.3 million he needed to get the stock released by a Swiss bank, or be jailed for contempt of court.
At 4:34 p.m., a grim-faced Bailey bolted from a car in front of the federal courthouse and strode through a throng of reporters, spreading his arms and bowling over several on his way into the U.S. Marshal’s Office. He refused to answer shouted questions.
Bailey was searched, fingerprinted and photographed. About an hour after his arrival, he was led out the back door of the courthouse in handcuffs and shackles, his tie removed, and driven to the federal jail in Tallahassee.
Bailey’s lawyer, Roger E. Zuckerman, declined to comment shortly before Bailey was taken to the prison.
Bailey was housed in an individual cell for a screening period all inmates go through to determine if they pose a threat to - or are in danger from - other inmates, prison spokesman Tony Kelly said.
After that period, which can last several days, he will be moved to one of the facility’s regular two-man cells, said Kelly.
Bailey contends the assets from a former client were for his fee and expenses. Prosecutors claim that most of the money belongs to the government because the drug dealer forfeited his assets as part of a plea bargain.
The judge had demanded that Bailey turn over the stock while the question of ownership is decided.
Bailey, whose clients have included O.J. Simpson, Patty Hearst, the Boston Strangler and Dr. Sam Sheppard, had pleaded with a federal appeals court in Atlanta for more time, insisting he had made a good-faith effort to come up with the money.
But on Tuesday, the court turned him down. Appeals Judge Ed Carnes said Bailey had been “clutching, clawing and scraping” to keep the assets.
The dispute involves 400,000 shares of stock in Biochem Pharma, a Canadian company. The stock once belonged to Claude Duboc, a drug dealer Bailey represented. It is being held by Credit Suisse, which won’t release it unless Bailey comes up with $2.3 million to pay off a lien he took out on the stock.
Duboc pleaded guilty to drug charges in 1994 and awaits sentencing. He fired Bailey last month.
It wasn’t the first time in F. Lee Bailey’s long and illustrious career as a criminal defense lawyer that he has angered a judge, but it was the first time he went to jail after a courtroom showdown.
The former Marine fighter pilot was conflict-oriented throughout his 36-year career long before he moved from Boston to West Palm Beach in South Florida in the mid-1980s.
In one of 17 books he wrote, “The Defense Never Rests,” he says: “If I ran a school for criminal lawyers, I would teach them all to fly. The ones who survive would understand the meaning of alone.”
Bailey was alone on Wednesday. And going down in flames. There was plenty of sympathy from other attorneys, but no one seemed to be coming to his defense.
“It could have been a lot worse than six months,” said attorney Gerald B. Lefcourt of New York. He noted that some judges leave people in jail on contempt charges indefinitely, until they come up with what the judge wants.
“At any rate, it’s very unfortunate that someone with such a career has come to this point,” said Lefcourt, first vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Bailey was named America’s most admired lawyer in a 1993 publicopinion poll by the National Law Journal.
Attorney E.E. “Bo” Edwards of Nashville, co-chairman of the national group’s forfeiture abuse task force, said it was rare for agreements on assets to not be put in writing by both sides.
“That is unusual and it certainly lies at the bottom of the trouble,” said Edwards. “There is a moral to be learned - if you’re in a $25 million forfeiture case you’d better put it in writing so both sides will have the same understanding.”
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