December 27, 2010

F. Lee Bailey makes case for fresh start in Maine

"This has been my best year in memory," says the famed lawyer, who moved to Yarmouth last year.

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

YARMOUTH - Dressed in a crisp black suit and black leather boots, F. Lee Bailey gazed southeast over Casco Bay through the wide windows of his rented home in Yarmouth.

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At his desk in Yarmouth, F. Lee Bailey is surrounded by evidence of a life in the spotlight, including covers of Time and Newsweek magazines relating to famous trials, and of his passions, aircraft and yachts.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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F. Lee Bailey poses with his business partner and girlfriend, Debbie Elliott, in her salon in Yarmouth. Bailey and Elliott Consulting helps clients on a wide range of business matters.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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"I used to swim there when I was a kid," he said, pointing to an outcropping a quarter mile from the rocky shore. "I always knew this would be my ultimate settling place."

Last year, Bailey, the 77-year-old lawyer of O.J. Simpson-trial fame, moved from Massachusetts to Maine. He now lives with Debbie Elliott, his girlfriend and business partner, in a rented home on Prince Point, only steps from the cottage where he spent childhood summers.

But Bailey, who's also a pilot and mariner, isn't practicing law. He's not even licensed to practice anymore.

Since arriving, he and Elliott have launched Bailey & Elliott Consulting, selling a range of services as diverse as Bailey's background.

Bailey said it's time for a new chapter in his life.

"This has been my best year in memory. Everything is starting to break exactly right," he said as he sat at an uncluttered, polished wooden desk in his office, which he shares with Elliott and Boots, his 14-year-old West Highland white terrier.

The new firm consults on general business matters and a variety of specialized topics and industries, drawing on the backgrounds of Bailey and Elliott, a longtime small-business owner and former business development specialist at the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

Bailey has long invested in boat and aviation companies and owned countless airplanes and yachts. Now, he consults with prospective plane and yacht buyers to estimate operating costs and pick the craft best serving their needs.

Bailey, who helped form the American Polygraph Association and ran his own investigative firm, also consults on polygraph testing and private investigation. The most high-profile example has been his involvement in the case of Dennis Dechaine, a Maine farmer convicted of killing 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in 1988, who is seeking a retrial.

Elliott, who once owned salons in Portland and Newport, heads the cosmetology side of the pair's consulting business. She cuts, colors and styles clients' hair and provides other personal care services.

Bailey said the services are related. Elliott can take care of clients' appearance; meanwhile, he preps them for court.

Bailey said he's planning to launch another offering, a mediation service he calls Quickset. It would let private parties settle disputes with an arbitrator -- possibly a retired judge -- within a month and for as little as $2,000. Bailey said he plans to start promoting Quickset in television and radio advertisements early next year.

The alternative is the civil court system, which Bailey called impractical for all but the largest cases and "a terribly inefficient way" to settle small, private disputes. Cases can slog through court for years, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer and court fees.

Bailey said Quickset can let smaller businesses, such as construction companies, continue work while seeking damages.

"I think it can spread around the state," Bailey said.

Greg Fryer, a corporate and securities lawyer with the law firm Verrill Dana LLP, heard Bailey speak at a recent Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce event. Fryer called Bailey a masterful public speaker.

"He is fully capable of talking for an hour and a half without notes. He is a great trial lawyer and has had a lifetime of thinking on his feet," said Fryer.

FROM DESALVO TO DECHAINE

Law is a subject Bailey knows well. He has appeared in courts in every state but Montana, written law books and represented a host of high-profile clients.

He defended Albert DeSalvo, suspected of being the Boston strangler; Army Capt. Ernest Medina, who faced court martial for his involvement in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam; and newspaper heiress-turned-bank robber Patricia Hearst.

In 1995, Bailey worked on O.J. Simpson's defense team, cross-examining Los Angeles Police detective Mark Fuhrman and questioning the validity of DNA evidence.

His Yarmouth office reflects those past high-profile cases, including old Newsweek and Time magazines featuring Bailey on the cover.

Bailey also has had his share of trouble. In the mid-1990s he was convicted of contempt of court in Florida and spent 44 days in jail for failing to return millions of dollars worth of stock that had belonged to a client, Claude Duboc. Bailey said the stock was transferred to him under an agreement with the government in 1994, when it was worth $6 million.

The stock increased in value to $16 million by 1996. The government wanted it back.

"I think it was totally wrong and I appealed it as far as I could. No one said anything for 20 months until my client changed counsel. (Then) the government discovered the stock had gone up fourfold, and they said, 'That was all ours, give it back.'"

Bailey was jailed until he returned the funds, and disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts.

'BEEN THERE. DONE THAT'

In addition to the consulting business, Bailey also advises, on a volunteer basis, Portland-based nonprofit USS John F. Kennedy Museum, a group working to turn the decommissioned aircraft carrier into a museum in Casco Bay. Bailey said the project will attract visitors and allow more people to enjoy the beauty of Casco Bay.

Steve Woods, the group's executive director, said Bailey has promoted the project to former President George H. W. Bush and the offices of Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and has toured the ship in Philadelphia.

"I have been incredibly impressed with his ability to process information and distill it down to the key points. Maine is lucky to have him as a resource in the community," Woods said.

On a visit to Maine a few years ago, Bailey met Elliott, who worked for the state at the time, at a dinner. But the spark came on their second encounter.

"I met Debbie ... again a few months later, and all the lights went off," he said.

After his brother died last year, Bailey moved to Maine, where he said the pace is more his style.

It was in Yarmouth that Bailey cultivated a lifelong passion for boating. He has owned a host of boats, from wooden sloops and Grand Banks trawlers to cigarette speedboats; has sailed the Atlantic from Maine to the Caribbean, and invested in and consulted for major yacht manufacturers.

Still, he said, "There is no place in the world for coastal cruising like Maine."

Bailey's other passion is aviation. He dropped out of Harvard College to join the U.S. Navy in 1952, where he trained to fly jet fighters. (Bailey later graduated from Boston University School of Law.) He has owned some 60 planes, and keeps a Piper Comanche turboprop aircraft at an airfield in Wiscasset.

Those passions are evident in his office, which is decorated with maps, charts and a framed knot-tying guide. A Navy cap rests on the windowsill and a picture of Bailey's late brother Bill hangs on the back wall. Model airplanes fill a shelf above Bailey's desk.

Bailey said he's never been happier than he is now. He's glad to be out of litigation and has grown displeased with a court system he said hasn't always been fair to his clients.

"Been there. Done that. You couldn't re-create that career if you had a magic wand. I much more enjoy what I am doing now," he said.

And he has no plans to retire.

"I will be working full time," he said. "People who retire die."

Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or:

jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com

 

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