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G-L-O-R-I-A : Maybe It's the Press Conferences, Or the Chanel Suits Or Her Insistence that Everyone Deserves Their Day in Court, But Gloria Allred Is the Lawyer Everyone Loves to Hate

November 13, 1994|DEANNE STILLMAN | Contributing editor Deanne Stillman's last piece for this magazine was "The Trouble With Male Bashing," which is anthologized in "Our Times," to be published next year by St. Martin's Press

"Did you see Gloria Allred on the news last night?"

The guy at the front of the line in the mail center was talking to the clerk. "I'm surprised it took her this long to surface," the clerk said, throwing a package on the scale. As usual, the topics of the day were under serious scrutiny. "You think they should fry O.J.?" Allred had just called for Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti to seek the death penalty in the case against the world-renowned rental-car shill. "I think they should fry all lawyers," the guy said, if not paraphrasing Shakespeare then at least expressing one of the few common reference points among Americans. "And I know just where to start."

At any given time, there are highly visible people whose names generate an intense response that often tells you more about the person who is responding than about the person causing the response. In contemporary Los Angeles, perhaps no one has consistently generated more heat than feminist attorney Gloria Allred.

Just as some lawyers are prominently associated with cases involving the Mafia or political dissent, Allred is prominently associated with cases driven by every burning gender issue of the day: child abuse, sexual harassment, rape, date rape, spousal abuse, sexual discrimination, lesbian rights, gay rights. Sometimes these cases are already infamous: Allred represented two of the girls involved in the Spur Posse incident, and, for about five minutes, she represented the boy who claimed to have been abused by Michael Jackson. Sometimes her cases are groundbreaking: In 1979, she won a precedent-setting right-to-privacy case involving the use of polygraph tests by federal employers and she filed a civil suit against a man accused of rape, after which he was arrested and tried on criminal charges. She later won the suit and the story became the basis of the TV movie "Without Her Consent." In 1980, in the landmark Larson vs. Pitchess case, she sued to force the county to change its medieval policy of tying pregnant inmates to their beds while they gave birth. Several years ago, she won a change in policy at Saks Fifth Avenue stores when she sued them for charging women more for alterations than men. She is currently representing Holly Ramona, who made headlines earlier this year when her father successfully sued Holly's therapists for reinforcing false memories of incest in his daughter. Holly is now suing her father for molestation. Because Allred wages these battles in the court of public opinion as well as in the courthouse, she is the best-known feminist attorney in the nation and, according to Los Angeles magazine, one of "the 30 most powerful people in Los Angeles" (1990) and one of "the 50 most interesting people in L.A." (1994). In terms of power, this puts her in the company of such individuals as Armand Hammer, Henry Waxman, Michael Eisner, Michael Ovitz and David Geffen. In terms of being interesting, she ranks No. 17, after Ray Bradbury and before Richard Riordan. Just for the record, she includes these stats in her official bio.

Others on the lists probably mention their status in their bios as well, but Allred's resume affirms what many of us suspect: She is not publicity shy. She is a local television commentator and host of a local radio show; she appears often on national talk shows and at press conferences in her offices and around town. She says she has had fewer press conferences this year than in the past. I've counted eight, including one that announced a victory in a lawsuit against photographers who refused to publish a photograph of a graduate and his male "partner in life" in a high school reunion yearbook, a win against a man who molested his goddaughter and, more recently, the filing of a lawsuit against Mervyn's for discriminating against male parents who want to accompany their daughters into dressing rooms.

"That's all?" people generally say when I reveal my tally. The perception is that there have been many more, that the only thing Allred does is hold press conferences, which is why there was a collective "oh, no, not again" reaction when she came forward in favor of the death penalty in the Simpson case. The response had everything to do with her and nothing to do with what she was saying, which was: "As long as the death penalty is sought against women accused of killing their husbands, it should be sought, when the situation warrants, against men charged with killing their wives."

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