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Counsel to the cop: She fits the profile

October 14, 2002|Gayle Pollard-Terry | Times Staff Writer

Rikki Klieman beams at her husband, the next chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. He is speaking to a group of Latino officers picnicking at the Police Academy. She gives him the same adoring look Nancy Reagan gave her Ronnie when he was in the White House, the same sweet gaze Hillary Clinton leveled on post-Gennifer, pre-Monica Bill.

"I have never, in my life, been in this role," Klieman says as she watches Bill Bratton address the Latin American Law Enforcement Assn., also known as La Ley. She works the tented area like a candidate's wife, enthusiastically introducing herself to officers and their families, including some who wanted one of their own, Oxnard Police Chief and LAPD veteran Art Lopez, to move into Parker Center. When the news cameras and reporters swarm the chief-designate, she stands off to the side.

In Los Angeles, she's Mrs. Bratton, making the public rounds with her husband, house-hunting near the beach, in West L.A., the Hollywood Hills and Los Feliz. In New York, she's Rikki Klieman, a self-described "type A to the fourth power" and as accustomed to the national spotlight as he is. A lawyer, she anchors the daily legal affairs show "Both Sides" on Court TV, a job she's thrived in since her on-air trial by fire, the O.J. Simpson case.

And now she'll be a weekend wife. She'll stay in New York and in front of the camera until her contract ends this time next year. Until then, she'll rack up frequent flier miles on last-minute nonstops and redeyes that land at dawn.

"I really made a major shift when I fell in love with Bill," she says. "For the first time in my life, I decided that he was my priority, and not my work. Anybody who knew me would not believe that kind of change is possible."

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'Top Cop's' fourth wife

So what's it like being the fourth wife of a man who calls himself "America's Top Cop"?

"For Bill, his job, his success, his career had always come first. With us, there's an equality. I am every bit as important to Bill as his job is," she says. "I don't think he's had that before."

What do the lawyer and cop do together?

"We are both joggers," she says. "We are very bad tennis players. We love the movies. We're total movie buffs. We saw 'The Four Feathers' because Bill needed a break from pacing while waiting for Mayor Hahn to make a decision."

Who cooks?

"Mostly, we eat out," she says.

Does he blow a fuse?

"I've never seen him lose his temper. What you get is the look, with a capital T and a capital L."

Do you dance together?

"I am transformed when I dance. Dance is my favorite thing.... Bill has really grown. When we were in Buenos Aires, we took tango lessons, and I have the pictures."

But mostly, they work.

A pit-bull litigator in Boston before her television career, Klieman first started making headlines as a prosecutor, then as a criminal defense lawyer with the large silk-stocking law firm Choate, Hall & Stewart, and ultimately in her own firm, Klieman, Lyons, Schindler & Gross. No longer a partner, she remains "of counsel," practicing solely in an advisory capacity.

In 1983, Time magazine named her one of the nation's five best women attorneys, all of them talented trial lawyers: "As a group, they are less like the stereotype of their sex than the stereotype of their job: they are fiercely intelligent, tough-minded, intensely competitive, self-assured individualists who relish the fray."

U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner, who began practicing law in Boston a couple of years before Klieman, explains in a telephone interview, "First, you have to recognize the profession was overwhelmingly male. And however overwhelmingly male it was, criminal law was even more overwhelmingly male."

Harvey Silverglate, the dean of defense attorneys in Boston, remembers Klieman's early days in court. "She's tough, very tough," he says by phone. "This is a very tough job. You've got a prosecutor threatening you. You've got cops lying and other witnesses lying, and you have to manage to tear them apart and convince the jury they are lying. And, sometimes your clients are very tough."

"She's a terrific actress," he adds. "I don't mean that in any derogatory manner. She is able to communicate with jurors in a way that makes them want to listen to her ....She's able to connect, which is why she ended up in television."

Warm, friendly, down-to-earth, Klieman nevertheless brings a formidable intellect and terrific recall to her show, which dissects both sides of big trials, the prosecution and the defense. She's also ended up in film. "In my work at Court TV, my greatest fun, besides what I do, has been acting," she says. "I played myself in 'Cable Guy' with Jim Carrey. I played a reporter in 'A Civil Action' with John Travolta. I most recently played a lawyer in '15 Minutes' with Robert De Niro."

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