Guilt by Association

Why does Alan Dershowitz feel the need to defend the worst of the worst?

In researching my piece “Shadows & Fog: Woody Allen Ran an Op on Mia Farrow,” which concerns the disgraced filmmaker’s 1992 smear campaign against his longtime partner, I was shocked to discover Mia Farrow’s choice of legal representation:

One attorney in particular, a renowned Harvard Law School professor, was taking notes at that Plaza Hotel press conference. In the years that followed, he would represent O.J. Simpson (1995), Woody Allen’s neighbor and buddy Jeffrey Epstein (2008), Harvey Weinstein (2018), and Donald John Trump (2020)—and he himself would be credibly accused of sex crimes involving minors. In each defense case, he used techniques pioneered by Allen. That press conference was essentially a template for all subsequent disinformation ops. And this particular attorney had a front-row seat. His name was Alan Dershowitz. And in the 1992 custody battle, the eponymous Allen v. Farrow, he represented Mia Farrow.

He was not licensed to practice law in Connecticut, where the criminal investigation of Woody Allen took place. Nor was he a matrimonial lawyer, and thus of little use in a custody case. Indeed, if anyone needed a criminal defense attorney of Dershowitz’s stature in 1992, it was Allen, not Farrow. Certainly he had more in common with the former than the latter.

As surprised as I was to see his name in the (very good) contemporaneous New York Times reporting, I was positively gobsmacked to find out, subsequent to publication, that Farrow never actually retained Dershowitz. He was called in by a friend of the family, I’m told, and had to be asked to stop talking to the media on Farrow’s behalf.

But there was Dersh, dashing from TV camera to TV camera like the Flash with a J.D. This was only two years after the release of Reversal of Fortune, the slick film adaptation of his book about the Claus von Bülow murder trial that won Jeremy Irons an Academy Award—and made Dershowitz famous. It was the same year he represented another high-profile client, the convicted hotelier Leona Helmsley. Perhaps he fell in love with the celebrity ballyhoo, and sought out the spotlight—an ambulance chaser to the stars?

Notably, Allen v. Farrow was the last high-profile case in which Dershowitz threw in with the virtuous side. If there is a thruline to the clients he’s represented since then, it’s that they are all the scum of the earth. One can reasonably believe, as the jury did, that von Bülow was innocent—Dershowitz himself thought so. The same cannot be said of Mike Tyson (1993), Jim Bakker (1994), O.J. Simpson (1995), Jeffrey Epstein (2008), Julian Assange (2011), Harvey Weinstein (2018), and Donald John Trump (2020). Those are con men, thieves, violent murderers, rapists, sex traffickers, foreign intelligence assets, mobsters, insurrectionists. Why does an intellect scintillating enough to be a full professor at Harvard Law at age 28 think it’s a good idea to routinely offer his services to degenerates like this? Is it all an intellectual exercise for him? Does he see these horrible cases as challenges to his legal genius, like how David Copperfield wouldn’t stop upping the magic tricks until he made the Statue of Liberty disappear?

But then, Alan Dershowitz is an enigma. This is a guy who prances around naked on the beach at Martha’s Vineyard, but kept his skivvies on at his pal Jeffrey Epstein’s estate—while being massaged by an “old, old Russian woman.” If you believe Virginia Guiffre, of course, Dershowitz did much more at Epstein’s manse than avail himself of a backrub. According to court papers filed in 2015, Guiffre, then 16, was trafficked by Epstein, and made to have sex with “politically connected and financially powerful people,” including our nude beach enthusiast. While Dershowitz steadfastly denies any wrongdoing, going so far as to sue Guiffre for defamation, I find the evidence against him quite compelling. For one thing, saying he was too busy chilling with “old, old” women to notice all the girls at Epstein’s pedophilia lair is like claiming he only saw Black people at the Klan rally. For another, Epstein’s butler testified under oath that Dersh was present when underage girls were about. There was also the op-ed he wrote in 1997, arguing that the age of consent should be fifteen (15!). How did he arrive at that specific number, one wonders, this seeker-out of “old, old Russian” masseuses? Oh, and his 2019 book, Guilt by Association: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo, is not exactly a manifesto on how we should believe women.

Also, I mean, have you seen him? Not to be mean, but I find him skin-crawlingly gross. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which a man this patently unattractive could cavort with pretty girls that does not involve those girls either being handsomely paid or straight-up trafficked. Put it this way: if the 16-year-old Virginia Guiffre had sex with Alan Dershowitz, as she claims (and he denies), it was not because she found him cute. The guy is a living, breathing Swipe Left.

Too, he has zero compunction about defending rapists and child molesters. Dershowitz somehow managed to use allegations of his client Kīrtanānanda Swami’s child sex abuse to help overturn the conviction on racketeering and mail fraud. Epstein, the notorious trafficker of underage girls, was not just Dershowitz’s client; he was his good friend. And it’s not like Dersh can plead ignorance on that one. He was defending the guy on charges of soliciting sex from minors! He was the one who negotiated Epstein’s sweetheart plea deal! He knew what Epstein was.

Perhaps the key to solving the Alan Dershowitz riddle has nothing to do with underage girls, massages, or ages of consent. In 1987, he was the criminal defense attorney for Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was spying for Israel. Pollard claimed he was motivated by a desire to help Israel, and never turned over anything that could hurt the United States, but this is a lie. Even Wolf Blitzer, who interviewed Pollard from his prison cell, concluded that “far from the small-time bungler portrayed in some new accounts, Pollard was a master spy, who provided important information to the Israelis.” And there was Dershowitz, fresh off the von Bülow case, negotiating the traitor’s plea bargain. As Lincoln’s Bible asks on yesterday’s PREVAIL podcast, would a foreign intelligence service as good as Israel’s really trust any old lawyer with defending its most important spy, in such a high-profile case?

Alan Dershowitz was in the headlines again this week, using his influence to have a professor at Yale, his alma mater, fired. Bandy Lee, on the faculty at the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine, was terminated by the university after Dershowitz wrote a letter to the school’s administrators urging them to investigate her. Lee has spent the better part of the last four years warning of Trump’s obvious and dangerous psychoses, risking censure from the university and the American Psychiatric Association in order to tell the truth. Why is Dershowitz free to express his opinions on legal cases that don’t involve him, but Lee must not share her own expertise, even when the future of the republic is at stake?

Alan Dershowitz helped a vicious killer walk free, negotiated a slap on the wrist for an abominable sex trafficker, and argued before the Senate on behalf of a president who wanted to destroy our democracy and, with it, the Pax Americana. Yes: everyone, even the worst criminals, deserves legal representation. But at the end of the day, how is an attorney who made a career successfully defending deplorable people any less deplorable than his clients? If that’s not guilt by association, I don’t know what is.

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Photo credit: Jeremy Irons and Ron Silver, as Alan Dershowitz, in the film Reversal of Fortune.