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Celebrity Lawyer Takes Spotlight In Cain Case


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

It seems like hardly a month goes by without seeing celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred on television. Allred's un-shy use of the media to call attention to her clients' causes earns the respect of some and the irritation of others.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates spoke with Allred recently about her current work, representing one of the woman who says she was sexually harassed by presidential candidate Herman Cain.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Herman Cain stood tall, hands clasped before his double-breasted suit jacket, and listened quietly while Lin Wood, the powerful anti-defamation lawyer he'd hired, explained that he's represented both people accused of crimes and people who were the victims of them.

LIN WOOD: I've also had the opportunity in my law practice to represent victims of sexual assault when they have come to my law office. I did not take them out and parade them in front of the cameras in a national press conference, and then arrange for them to go on a campaign with the media to give one interview after another, after another.

BATES: That was a direct slap at Gloria Allred, who had indeed held a press conference the day before introducing Sharon Bialek to the nation. She was one of the women who came forward to say Cain had pressed unwanted sexual attention on her years ago when she was seeking a job.

SHARON BIALEK: I said, what are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn't what I came here for. Mr. Cain said, you want a job, right?

BATES: Allred frequently goes before the media with clients, often women, who feel they've been unjustly treated. And she doesn't apologize for wielding the media like a cudgel as she seeks justice for her people.

GLORIA ALLRED: We are fighting a David and Goliath battle, or Davida and Goliath battle. And we are up against, you know, very powerful, very well-funded sources, so the court of public opinion does matter.

BATES: So dressed in her trademark St. John knits, impeccably made up and coiffed, Allred makes clients such as Sharon Bialek visible - sometimes.

ALLRED: If it accomplishes our clients' goals, first and foremost, to speak out about it publicly, then we'll do it. But both the client and myself have to be convinced that it's best for the client.

BATES: A long-time feminist, Allred, graduated from Loyola Law School in 1974. She was one of a tiny handful of female law students. And while she has clients who have briefly become household names, she says she has scores more who will remain confidential because of settlements her firm has won on their behalf.

ALLRED: You know, we've taken on the rich, the powerful, the famous, government, large corporation, small businesses, batterers, murderers...


ALLRED: ...wrongdoers of all - of many types.

BATES: Those wrong-doers include an Atlantic City casino that has fired several middle-aged cocktail waitresses, ostensibly because they don't flatter the skimpy new uniforms the casino has ordered them to wear. An actress who says director Roman Polanski forced sex on her when she was working for him as a teenager. The family of Nicole Brown Simpson.

Allred is aware that some people consider her the celebrity equivalent of an ambulance chaser, but says all her clients seek her out.

ALLRED: We can only take a small fraction of all of the individuals who contact us. And if we can't help people, we will try to refer them.

BATES: In the 35 or so years she's practiced, Allred estimates her firm has earned about a quarter of a billion dollars in settlements for her clients. She racks up hours because she is a self-professed workaholic.

ALLRED: I love what I do. And people's problems are not 9-to-5, so my work is not 9-to-5.

BATES: It's more like 24/7. And don't even talk to her about stopping.

ALLRED: I never see myself retiring. Everybody can make a difference in their own way, but we can make a very big difference, and we want to continue to do that for as long as we can.

BATES: So chances are you'll be seeing Gloria Allred on TV again in the near future.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.