Aug. 17, 2000 -- F. Lee Bailey today was found in contempt of court for not turning over $2 million he claimed as legal fees. However, the former O.J. Simpson “Dream Team” attorney will not face prison time or have to pay any fines.
Federal prosecutors argued that Bailey should be held in contempt for refusing to turn over money one of his clients owed the government. The client, infomercial pitchman William J. McCorkle, was convicted of fraud and money laundering in 1998 and sentenced to 24 years in prison. A jury ordered him to forfeit $10.6 million in assets, including the $2 million set aside for his attorneys.
Prosecutors believed Bailey should either turn the money over to the government or be imprisoned for contempt. But Bailey claimed today he could not afford to pay the reduced bond of $700,000 — in June, U.S. District Judge Patricia Fawsett reduced the bond from $2 million.
Going For Broke
In today’s hearing, Bailey said he was nearly broke. He said his main asset was his house and stressed his only other tangible assets were his furniture and Mercedes Sedan. Bailey claimed he had shut down his practice for most of the past year to take care of his wife, who died of pancreatic cancer.
But Judge Fawsett did not believe Bailey, noting that at least $1 million had passed through his bank accounts. She sided with prosecutors who told the judge that Bailey sold $620,000 in stock in the past yearand was living a lavish lifestyle that included a million-dollar mansion and a private airplane.
“The record is replete with a willful and intentional refusalto pay,” Fawsett said.
The judge said she wouldn’t punish Bailey becausefederal prosecutors had failed to make a serious effort to tracewhat happened to the money or to recover assets from Bailey. Sherecommended that any disciplinary action be taken by the Florida StateBar Association.
Disbarment Hearing Ahead?Both federal prosecutors and Bailey refused to comment after the ruling. But Bailey’s attorneysaid he was elated.
“We’re glad this matter is behind us,” said Richard Lubin.
Bailey still faces other legal woes: Another contempt case may lead to his disbarment in Florida. A Florida state judge has recommended to the Florida Supreme Court that Baileybe disbarred for paying himself $16 million in stock that thegovernment intended to seize from his client who was convicted of drug charges. Bailey claims he was given the stock as payment for legal fees. In 1996, he spent 43days in jail for contempt of court stemming from this dispute.The Associated Press contributed to this report.