It was pretty clear that famed attorney F. Lee Bailey was on his way down when he leaned over a federal courtroom bench in Ocala and asked me for a ride back to the Hilton Hotel.
It was the first time the defendant in any trial asked me for a ride during a lifetime of watching the courts.
I was covering the hearings that surrounded millions of dollars in assets Bailey was handling for Claude Louis Duboc, a citizen of the world who held American and French citizenship due to his having been born in New York to French parents.
Duboc had homes in the South of France, Paris, Hong Kong Thailand and San Francisco, all of which were forfeited to the U.S. government after he was convicted of smuggling tons of marijuana and laundering millions of dollars. Duboc fired Bailey as his lawyer after he failed to account for his money.
The request for a ride led to a somewhat comical scene outside the courthouse as Bailey and I got in my car and drove away from a pack of reporters clamoring for comment.
I wish I could say I got information from him that was worth something, but he was not in a good mood. We had a casual conversation during the brief trip. He did thank me for the ride.
Bailey died last week at a hospice near Atlanta. He represented some of the most famous clients in the country before being disbarred and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by federal judges in Florida.
On the day I met him in a federal courtroom, he was desperately fighting to hang on to stocks and other assets owned by Duboc, who was later sentenced to life in prison for his drug smuggling ventures.
Bailey was supposed to be holding stocks valued at $6-million and using some of the money to handle the sale of Duboc’s houses and condos. The stock had been expected to rise in value to more than $20-million.
Bailey was clearly in trouble from the moment he walked into the courtroom. He had gained fame with celebrity clients much of his life and had only recently completed the O.J. Simpson trial.
Robert Shapiro, one of the co-counsels in the Simpson case, was called as a witness against Bailey. The bad relationship between the two lawyers led to one comical moment at Bailey’s contempt hearing.
Shapiro was called to the witness stand and started to walk toward the front of the courtroom only to realize he had to pass right by Bailey. He stopped and circled the room before taking the stand. Shapiro testified against Bailey, saying he had offered money from Duboc’s accounts to help with the Simpson case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. McGee was the prosecutor. McGee, now in private practice in Pensacola, is a nice guy, but he was a holy terror as a prosecutor. Few defendants ever left his presence with a smile and Bailey was no exception.
Bailey was found in contempt of court and spent 43 days in the same federal prison where Duboc was being housed near Tallahassee before he was able to come up with $700,000 to repay some of the debt. The famed attorney unsuccessfully claimed he was due about $20-million and could not account for about $3-million in other expenditures.
U.S. District Judge Maurice Paul took a dim view of Bailey’s expenditures on behalf of Duboc while he was in the Levy County Jail awaiting trial.
Bailey hired a personal valet to provide services to Duboc which included serving more than a million dollars worth of Sushi delivered to him in jail. There was more: lobster, steak, jumbo shrimp, tuna, fresh crab, fruit and various desserts, and a four place setting of china, all provided to him in jail.
Bailey used some of his client’s money to fly the Concorde between the O.J Simpson trial in Los Angeles and Duboc’s holdings in Europe and paid $80,000 for hip surgery Duboc wanted from one of the finest doctors available.
After all of the revelations of the money Bailey spent, the Florida Supreme Court disbarred him over expenditures totaling some $3.5-million of Duboc’s money.
Duboc entered into a plea bargain and was sentenced to life in federal prison without parole, but was released a year ago to home confinement in France after serving 26 years.
State and federal law enforcement shared more than $11-million they obtained from the sale of the stock taken from Bailey. More than $200-million was shared by law enforcement agencies in Thailand, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, France, Dubai, the Arab Emirates, Singapore and the United States.