06.13.12

My Gloria Allred Nightmare

Tricia Romano wanted to interview the feminist lawyer about her penchant for publicity and her storied career. That is not what happened.

The interview with Gloria Allred was not going well. First, there’d been a technical snafu. And then, after a series of progressively more awkward exchanges with the famed feminist lawyer, it got worse. Much worse.

I had just asked her why formidable publications such as The Atlantic Wire were characterizing the women’s-rights attorney as the “Ambulance Chaser of ‘Feminism.’” Because when it comes to generating tawdry and salacious news, Perez Hilton and TMZ have nothing on Allred, the California lawyer who became known in the 1980s for suing the Friars Club for discrimination (she won), but who in recent years has become more famous for representing mistresses, strippers, and women whose only crime appears to be that they are too sexy for their shirts.

“I don’t know why,” she snapped after I read her the Atlantic Wire headline. “Because that’s defamatory.”

Actually, I pointed out, it was an opinion piece. “I think,” I tried to point out as delicately as possible, “what they are trying to say is that they think you are a publicity hound.”

Indeed, Allred’s recent client list reads like a compendium of the top-tabloid stories of the last decade. There’s Amber Frey, the mistress of the convicted murderer Scott Peterson, who killed his wife, Laci; there’s Sharon Bialek, one of the four women who revealed that former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain had allegedly gotten handsy with them; there’s Rachel Uchitel and Joslyn James, two of the multitude of former Tiger Woods mistresses. And more recently, there’s the stripper-journalist Sarah Tressler, who filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC), asking for them to investigate her firing from the Houston Chronicle, and Lauren Odes, the woman who also filed a complaint with the EEOC for being fired from her job at Native Intimates for being “too hot.”

And then there was the recent announcement that Allred would be representing the girlfriend of the Miami Cannibal, Rudy Eugene. As Business Week wrote: “In a new twist, celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred announced that she would represent one of Eugene’s girlfriends, but didn’t make it clear why.” (Emphasis mine).

On top of it all, there’s the bold lawsuit from Okorie Okorocha, the lawyer who originally had two male clients who filed suit against actor John Travolta for his alleged groping and inappropriate behavior during massages. The suits were both withdrawn without prejudice, allowing the plaintiffs to refile. After the first two men left Okorocha for Allred, he sued claiming that she’d poached one of the clients. She issued a statement denying those charges and filed a motion to dismiss. At press time, there have not been any new suits filed on behalf of the two accusers.

Not surprisingly, Okorocha is scathing in his criticism of Allred’s ubiquitous press conferences, calling her in an interview, “the publicist /actress who sits there with the clients and makes everybody feel sorry for them and gets a lot of press conferences set up that are really gratuitous idiocy.”

Okorocha pointed out that other well-known lawyers, like Martin Singer, who represents celebrities such as John Travolta or Arnold Schwarzenegger, never hold press conferences. He asked, “Is there any case she does that’s outside the view of the camera, ever?”

I tried to find out and set up an interview with her. During our talk, I learned immediately that Allred does not have time for chitchat. She wanted to “expedite” (her words) everything about our conversation, which soon became more like a cross-examination. I wanted to hear about the Friars Club and the cases she was most proud of, including those that hadn’t received the same sort of press attention she had become so famous for.

I wanted to be in awe of her. Instead, she repeatedly directed me to read her book, or to read press statements on her website. She addressed very few of my questions directly and sidestepped most of them, using the fine art of lawyerly redirection—that is, when she was not openly scoffing at the questions.

Her daughter describes her in the foreword of aforementioned book—which shall not be named—as “relentless.” My description would be “exhausting.”

I wanted to know what she thought about Okorocha’s lawsuit against her; she referred me to the motion to dismiss, which argued that the client was merely exercising “his constitutionally protected right to employ the counsel of his own choosing.”

I asked her whether or not she thought people in general took male victims of sexual harassment less seriously than women. She said: “You know, I haven’t really done any surveys, so I couldn’t really give you the answer to that question, of how the public feels.”

I was just asking for her opinion.

Ah, yes. The book.

Okorocha had pointed out that most witnesses don’t need private representation. He asked rhetorically: “Why does Amber Frey need representation? It’s just so Gloria can show up and show her face and wear her turtleneck,” he said. “She doesn’t. The witness doesn’t need representation. They are not pressing criminal charges. And if they were, the court would appoint a public defender. Does Gloria have any courtroom acumen or even know the rules of evidence, so that she would be of any help whatsoever, more than a potted plant?” In the complaint, he reproduced a text message to his client claiming that Allred “ain’t been in a courtroom in 20 years. Just doing stupid ass press conference side shows.”

Was Okorocha right? Why do Amber Frey, Ginger Lee, the porn star who’d received sexts from Anthony Weiner, and Britney Spears's former bodyguard Tony Barretto need lawyers, not publicists?

“Well, I—do you want me to explain?” said Allred, as if she were talking to a small child. I imagined her sitting in her office wearing her power red suit with her hair coiffed and camera ready, peering down at the phone through her glasses.

“OK, Amber Frey, that question is answered in my book in the chapter about Amber Frey.”

I will not name the title of it. You can Google it.

I was beginning to think the entire interview would merely serve the function of Gloria Allred pimping her book. I had already heard a similar story from Debrahlee Lorenzana, the woman who hired Allred to sue Citibank for firing her because she was “too hot” who told me that at the end of their first meeting, Allred gave her a copy of her book—and then autographed it. “She signs it and gives it to me so that I can read her book.”

I pressed Allred a little more on the subject: “I will say, any individual in a high-profile situation—as I say in my book—is well advised to seek the advice of an attorney. And the third person you asked me about was Ginger Lee. Same answer.”

Ah, yes. The book.

It seemed that she served as a protective shield. Indeed, Joslyn James, one the many Tiger Woods mistresses, characterized her to me as “more of like a mommy-lawyer.”

James said that she was still in contact with Allred. “I’m forever grateful to have met her and have her in my life,” she said. She’d hired Allred because she said she’d seen her on TV:  “I was getting some of the craziest things happen to me and I needed advice and I didn’t trust anybody,” said James. “It had nothing to do with money or me trying to get anything from Tiger.”

The other alleged Woods mistress, Rachel Uchitel, who with Allred’s help had supposedly won a $10 million settlement from the golfer, only to give it back when she joined Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab cast for being “addicted to love,” was less kind and loquacious than James.

When I asked Uchitel over email if she’d give an interview about Allred, she curtly declined. When I pressed once more, she wrote an ice-cold reply. “My response is still that I’m not interested. That should speak to my answer.”

Of course, I tried to ask Allred about Uchitel. The press implications had been that Allred saved her own ass and secured her fee rather than fight for her client. What did she say to that? “I have no comment on Rachel Uchitel,” she responded. “Nor do I have any comment on rumors and gossip. Or stories from unidentified sources”—she laughed or, perhaps more accurately, snickered —“which abound in the Internet about numerous people, cases, now issues. I mean, if you want to ask me a specific question about a specific person from an identified source I’m happy to answer. But this is the second question you’ve asked me about rumors, and I just I can’t answer rumor questions. I’m sorry.”

She continued, despite the fact that I had tried to move on two or three times: “We’re not in the rumor business; we are in the law business. And we—if you have a question about a case then we can, you know, and you have a specific question about what’s happening in the case, feel free to ask it. Because in general rumors may or may not be true, so we just don’t deal with, in rumors and gossip. I mean, I’m sorry, you, let’s see, who is this is for?”

“The Daily Beast.”

“The Daily Beast. OK, well, OK, I won’t comment on what The Daily Beast does or does not do.”

The contempt practically dripped through the phone line.

It is a shame that most people probably associate Allred with the most salacious cases. Because for every tabloid-ready case, there are more that she and her firm Allred, Maroko & Goldberg have taken on that don’t get wild press conferences with amply bosomed girls preening for the camera. She said: “We’ve won hundreds of millions of dollars even in the last 10 years for clients. You will only hear about a very small percent of all of those cases.”

Her firm won $18.4 million for James Stevens in his sexual-harassment case against Vons. They also scored a $1.68 million settlement against a farmer for a group of women who were discriminated against. She and her firm were one of the first to challenge the anti–gay marriage passing of Prop 8. And, even though Odes and Tressler are not yet outright suing their employers—it’s educational. “Now, a lot of people know that if they believe they have been discriminated against, they can go to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and file a charge. They don’t necessarily need to go and file a lawsuit. And they can do that free of charge,” said Allred. “Do I want people who have been discriminated against to know that? Yes, I’m very, very committed to their knowing that. Because it isn’t something most people learn in school.”

Her own personal story is commendable and moving—it’s a verifiable, pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-and-take-no-prisoners tale. She was a single mother who put herself through college, who’d survived a brutal rape at gunpoint to emerge a victorious challenger of women’s rights, most notably her case against the previously all-male Friars Club for gender discrimination. Somewhere along the way—after successfully winning a case for beleaguered actress Hunter Tylo, fired from Melrose Place because she got pregnant—Allred’s associations have become more sensational than substantial.

Lorenzana seemed tailor made for Allred; she had already scored a Village Voice cover in June 2010 prior to hiring the lawyer shortly after. Lorenzana was born in Puerto Rico and English is her second language: she sounds like Rosie Perez with an even thicker New York accent. It was clear when I spoke to her on the phone that Lorenzana was still steaming mad about her case. (In the end, after Allred had dropped her, she went to arbitration against Citibank, representing herself, and lost.)

Lorenzana said it was another firm, Cuti Hecker Wang LLP, that did all the paper pushing: “Every time that Gloria showed up was only when there was any media going around. Whether it was because she had a press conference or because she needed me to go on the Dr. Phil show, or the Geraldo show, anything that had to do with cameras—that’s when she showed up,” she said. “In the meantime, I was dealing with some law firm here in New York City with a lawyer. I didn’t even like the lawyer that was helping me here, and I told Gloria that,” said Lorenzana. “I would never hear from Gloria unless there was some type of media thing, like if I got an offer from Playboy or modeling—anything that has to do with the media, she would contact me and say, ‘I have this.’”

(Allred is licensed to practice in California and said the firm was her co-counsel. When I asked Allred about what Lorenzana said, she referred me to her press statement, which read, in part: “We and our New York co-counsel felt that we had no choice other than to withdraw. We did everything that we could to help her.”)

“As a person she is very nice, genuinely, but honestly as a lawyer, I would never, ever, ever, hire her ever again,” said Lorenzana. “And if I could turn back time it would be the only thing that I would regret. I don’t regret going against Citibank. I don’t regret standing up for my rights and for what was done to me. I don’t regret none of that,” she said. “The only thing that I regret in my life was hiring that woman. That’s the only thing I regret.”

She later added: “I never read her book.”