Hollywood lawyer Gloria Allred champions women's causes

Arguably America's best-known lawyer, Ms Gloria Allred's illustrious career is the subject of Seeing Allred, a documentary released on Netflix.
Arguably America's best-known lawyer, Ms Gloria Allred's illustrious career is the subject of Seeing Allred, a documentary released on Netflix.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Famed lawyer Gloria Allred says her own life experiences are a motivation and driving force for her to want to help other women

LOS ANGELES • Long before horror stories of women suffering sexual misdeeds and abuse fanned out of Hollywood, lawyer Gloria Allred had fought for the family of a child accusing singer Michael Jackson of sexual assault and the loved ones of murdered Nicole Brown Simpson at the trial of former football star O.J. Simpson.

Her current clients include a woman who alleges United States President Donald Trump forcibly kissed her.

All in, Ms Allred, 76, arguably America's best known lawyer, revered by clients and feared by the men who prey on them, has been representing victims of sexual violence for 40 years.

And as a deluge of allegations brings down powerful entertainment figures such as actor Bill Cosby and film producer Harvey Weinstein, she finds herself at the peak of her powers, her illustrious career the subject of Seeing Allred, a documentary released on Netflix.

Impeccably stylish, hair carefully coiffed and make-up applied with surgical precision, she noted: "Women have been coming forward before Weinstein and #MeToo, but it was like a wave coming onto the beach and then, of course, it became a tsunami.

"It has now reached into millions of homes all around the world and it's been very empowering to alleged victims."

Ms Allred said the reassertion of female power under way in public comes as no surprise, though she was taken aback by the sheer number of victims willing to tell their stories.

"It's a very exciting time because we see women abandoning their fear, finding their voice, reaching out to learn what legal rights they have and, in many cases, asserting those rights," she added.

The committed feminist has a record of leading action against men refusing to pay alimony, most notably when she sued Pakistani cricket legend-turned-politician Imran Khan to force him to recognise his paternity responsibilities.

She has also represented victims of sexual abuse of priests, campaigned for the right to same-sex marriage and advocated for victims of racial discrimination.

A former teacher in the predominantly African-American southern Los Angeles district of Watts, Ms Allred became a lawyer in her 30s.

Her modus operandi is the headline-grabbing press conference, which she uses as a weapon to conquer public opinion.

These showpieces often take place in the conference room of her Los Angeles office, her clients reading a statement and breaking down in tears, as she clasps their hand or places a sisterly arm around a shoulder.

"People who are not well known, the typical person, the victim to whom no one would pay attention - they deserve to have a voice, respect, to be heard," she said.

Her critics charge her with attention-grabbing sensationalism, pointing to a 2010 case when she argued that a banker was discriminated against by male bosses for being "too sexy for Citibank".

Among her most controversial cases have been Egyptian scion Dodi Fayed's aggrieved former fiance - dumped for Diana, Princess of Wales - and a porn actress who was the mistress of golfer Tiger Woods.

"I'm most proud of the clients I represent and their courage because it's not easy to talk about what they say happened to them.

"Often, it will trigger memories that they have for many years tried to suppress," Ms Allred noted. "They will often have to fight through their tears to talk about it and then to undergo the process of justice."

Those who mock her ego - her desk is adorned with her own portraits and her face smiling back from the covers of magazines - or say that she is motivated by money get an insouciant shrug.

"When they call me names, it's a message to me that they don't have a good legal argument. It doesn't deter me," she said.

Born in Philadelphia in 1941, Ms Allred was 20 when she had her daughter Lisa Bloom - also a lawyer, who resigned from a briefly held controversial position on Mr Weinstein's defence team.

She found herself a single mother after separating from her first husband, who was bipolar, and was married for 19 years to her second husband, before an acrimonious divorce.

Many Americans casually acquainted with Ms Allred's work will be unaware that her passion is born of her own horrifying personal experience half a century ago, when she was raped while on vacation in Mexico.

The attack resulted in a pregnancy and the 25-year-old had an abortion in secret.

She nearly died - and her nurse told her she ought to see the ordeal as a "lesson".

"I do think that my own life experience as a woman is certainly a motivation and a driving force to want to assist other women in the justice system," Ms Allred said.

"I didn't learn what I know now in college, but in the school of hard knocks. I very much believe in what Gandhi said - that you must be the change you wish to see in the world."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2018, with the headline 'Rape victim now voice for women'. Print Edition | Subscribe