Law Professors

Dershowitz and Boies spar in 'an increasingly virulent war' over rape accusation

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Updated: Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz says he initially hesitated a decade ago when a friend sought his help fighting allegations that he paid underage girls to give him sexual massages.

Dershowitz took the case anyway and arranged a plea deal for his client, wealthy money manager Jeffrey Epstein. Now Dershowitz is defending his own reputation after a lawsuit challenging the plea deal brought an accusation that he had sex with a woman when she was a minor, the New York Times reports.

The accuser, represented by lawyer David Boies, never filed a complaint with police or a suit against Dershowitz. She testified in a suit claiming the Justice Department violated the rights of two women in Epstein’s case by not allowing them to challenge the plea deal.

The accusation led to “an increasingly virulent war” between Boies and Dershowitz, according to the New York Times. The woman’s claims, Dershowitz has said, are “outrageous falsehoods,” and two other lawyers who made the sex claim in a court filing are “villains.” Those two lawyers, Bradley Edwards and Paul Cassell, alleged defamation in a suit against Dershowitz, who filed a counterclaim.

“Over a five-decade career,” the Times story says, “Dershowitz has represented some of America’s most prominent criminal defendants, including O. J. Simpson, Leona Helmsley, Mike Tyson and Claus von Bulow. Now, he finds himself on the other side, in a legal battle to clear his own name. At 77, he is struggling to absorb a bitter lesson—that choosing the wrong client can exact its own cost.”

Boies’ firm, Boies, Schiller and Flexner, is representing the accuser pro bono in the defamation case as part of a program to assist victims of abuse, according to prior coverage by Reuters. The firm also discussed representing Dershowitz before the conflict was discovered, according to Dershowitz. He claims he wasn’t made aware of the conflict until after he revealed his legal strategy to the firm.

(Even if there was no attorney-client relationship formed, the firm could be disqualified if Dershowitz made confidential statements to the firm in contemplation of possible litigation, according to this post by the Faculty Lounge.)

Boies responded that Dershowitz was “irresponsible” for making a conflict claim in the press without being willing to assert it in court. According to the New York Times story, the incident “was only the start of an escalating battle in which each man has accused the other of twisting words and spewing falsehoods.”

Dershowitz claimed in a deposition in the defamation case that he received a phone call from a friend of the accuser, who said she was pressured to make the claim against Dershowitz and another friend of Epstein’s in hopes of recovering $1 billion.

Dershowitz also claims Boies privately told him he believed Dershowitz is innocent and his accuser is mistaken or confused. Dershowitz filed a court affidavit (PDF) claiming Boies told him he could not ethically continue to represent the woman if she did not withdraw her claim.

The affidavit includes Dershowitz’s contemporaneous notes of his conversations with Boies supporting his claims about Boies’ statements. It also says that a mutual friend attended the meetings in which Boies made his comments.

“Over the course of several conversations in person, over the phone, and on Skype,” Dershowitz’s affidavit says, “Mr. Boies repeatedly stated that he did not believe the allegations that [his client] had made against me were factually true.”

Boies denies making such a comment. “I never said to him that I concluded that my clients’ assertions were incorrect,” Boies told the Times. “I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything like that.”

Dershowitz responded to Boies’ denial in a statement to the ABA Journal. “I doubt that my friend David Boies will be willing to state under oath that he did not make the statements that I quote in my affidavit,” Dershowitz said. “It’s one thing to deny making them to the media. It’s quite another thing to deny them under pains and penalties of perjury.”

Typo and missing period corrected at 9 a.m. Additional information about Dershowitz’s affidavit and statement from Dershowitz added on Dec. 17.

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