With Cosby case, Gloria Allred again finds herself in scandal's spotlight

The face-off went down somewhere in Boston and stretched on for more than seven hours.

And that's all we know about the day Gloria Allred grilled Bill Cosby. What happened at that early October deposition, regarding allegations that the comedian assaulted more than 50 women, remains a secret until a judge decides what sections, if any, to unseal.

But it's easy to envision Allred taking on the task with glee.

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The attorney's many critics say she basks in scandal's spotlight, with a clientele of wronged porn stars, celebrity mistresses under attack, employees allegedly fired for being well-endowed.

"She has never seen a camera she didn't like," remarked celebrity defense attorney Thomas Mesereau.

Now the oft-vilified, 74-year-old feminist icon's spectacularly public quest to take down the once-revered 78-year-old fatherly icon is giving the public yet another chance to figure out Allred's place in history.

A week after she interrogated the man she has referred to as a public moralizer in need of punishment, Allred sat at the cream-colored conference table in her Carthay neighborhood office. A court order prevents her from discussing the specifics of the deposition, so she deflected direct questions about Cosby with broad answers about the nature of fame.

"Many celebrities suffer from the arrogance of power and the sense of entitlement," she said. "They surround themselves with 'yes people' who are afraid to give them the truth about anything. They get their moment of truth from me."

Allred's supporters believe it is this unapologetic forcefulness that inspires clients to seek her out, including more than half of those accusing Cosby of sexual assault.

One of them, Judy Huth, has taken legal action — alleging that Cosby took her hand to perform a sex act on him in the 1970s when she was 15. Allred successfully argued that Huth was not precluded by statutes of limitation because she discovered the psychological harm within the last three years.

In the other cases, Allred acts as publicist and advocate, wrapping an arm around accusers as they read their emotional statements to reporters. For most of these women, it is the first time they have publicly alleged that Cosby raped, molested or abused them.

Feminist Gloria Steinem said it is Allred's reputation as a staunch adversary that impels women to come forward and risk ridicule.

"She will certainly be remembered as someone who was brave," Steinem said. "She has the revolutionary idea that the law might have something to do with justice. She takes on conflict, which is often difficult for women to do. We're socialized to seek approval. I think we're all very grateful to her for her willingness to be public."

More than willing, Allred has jumped at every chance to publicly rattle Cosby's cage, firing up the troops at rallies in Atlanta and Denver to protest his comedy tour, testifying in front of Nevada lawmakers in support of extending the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of rape.

Like Cosby, Allred is a Philadelphia native. An only child, she was raised in a brick row house by a stay-at-home mother and a door-to-door salesman father, whose meager earnings covered groceries and the trolley fare she needed to get to school. Decades later, she would take in her ailing parents and care for them in their last years of life.

After graduating from the Philadelphia High School for Girls — around the corner from Cosby's then-all-boys alma mater, Central High — she went to the University of Pennsylvania. There she met her first husband and was pregnant at 19. The relationship soon ended in divorce.

A single mother, Allred found work as an assistant buyer at a Gimbel Brothers department store but said she quit after learning a male counterpart was making more money. She moved on to teach at a boys' high school while obtaining a master's degree in education. The mild weather of Los Angeles beckoned and she took a job at Jordan High School in Watts.

Her calling changed when the life story she repeatedly has told took a dark turn: While on vacation in Acapulco, she was raped by a local doctor. An illegal abortion left her hemorrhaging and close to death. She recovered with a newfound motivation: to effect change through the law.

"She has always been a force to reckon with," said Nathan Goldberg, who met Allred at Loyola Law School. The two, along with Michael Maroko, started their own firm in 1976.

"Gloria wanted to educate the public — so few women knew their rights," Maroko said.

That meant calling news conferences for what no doubt struck some as trifling issues at the time: suing Sav-On Drugstore for creating gender-specific toy sections, fighting a dry cleaner that charged 40 cents more for women's shirts than men's.

One of Allred's earliest causes was elevating the profile of the lead plaintiff in Roe vs. Wade.

Norma McCorvey was known only as Jane Doe, and her anonymity was lifted when she befriended Allred, who guided her into the national dialogue on abortion. McCorvey, who shocked the nation when she had a change of heart and became an anti-abortion activist, detailed their friendship in a 1998 memoir.

Allred, she said, taught her "how to behave in the strange world of press releases, news conferences and interviews. Because of her acceptance and patience, I still love her to this day. 'Norma,' Gloria would say, 'you're a diamond in the rough, but I'm gonna make you shine.'"

According to Allred and her partners, the firm has won more than $250 million in civil payouts over the last decade.

On her website, Allred calls herself "the most famous woman attorney in the world" — a sentiment repeated in her biography "Fight Back and Win." Although her television court show fizzled, her life has inspired a CBS legal drama that is in the works.

Well-known trial attorney Mark Geragos said he learned a lot about Allred when she represented Amber Frey, the lover of his client, Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife. Allred is so polarizing, he said, that some become unsympathetic to anyone she represents.

"You love her or you hate her," he said.

On the hater side is Debrahlee Lorenzana, who retained Allred in 2010, alleging she was fired from a Citibank office because her curvaceous figure and good looks were deemed a distraction. Allred's firm eventually withdrew from the case, issuing a statement that said attorneys had put in hundreds of hours but legal obligations that couldn't ethically be revealed required them to part ways with their client.

Lorenzana openly lambasted the attorney, who she said had pushed her to settle and was concerned only about photo ops.

Allred says she doesn't worry about how she is perceived and doesn't fret about personal swipes.

"I know the game and here's the game: When you have the law on your side, you argue the law. If you don't have the law, you argue the facts. If you don't have the facts, you attack the person."

Allred's partners said potential clients reach out to the firm, never the other way around. Nicole Brown Simpson's family. Tiger Woods' mistresses. Anthony Weiner's porn star sexting partner. Meg Whitman's housekeeper.

When Rita Milla sought out Allred, she claimed seven priests had had sex with her when she was a teenager and sent her abroad to give birth. It was 1984, and sexual abuse allegations against the L.A. Archdiocese had little credibility. Milla was turned down by attorneys. A judge initially dismissed her suit.

For more than 20 years, though, Allred stuck with the case.

Milla eventually received a settlement and was granted a paternity test that proved one of the priests had fathered her daughter. Another priest apologized to her at a news conference in Allred's office.

"I'm sure any other attorney would have closed my case and filed me away after that dreadful court ruling so many years ago," Milla said.

It is fitting that Allred has taken on Cosby, said Robin Tyler, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark 2004 case against the state's prohibition on gay marriage.

"People really attacked her for daring to represent us. She got raked over the coals and she did it anyway. So when people say she's getting too much press, I'm like, 'Are you kidding?' She's worked for 40 years doing this stuff and she's sincere."

Although Allred is the most high-profile women's rights attorney in the country, she said the title is problematic. Those who flock to her often say they know of nowhere else to turn. She and her firm hope to change that by building a network of women's and civil rights attorneys across the nation.

"There is so much injustice and so little access to justice," she said.

That initiative and a heavy load of cases keep Allred on the road. She calls herself a news junkie but makes little time for outside activities, sticking to her homes in Pacific Palisades and Malibu.

Lisa Bloom, Allred's daughter and a legal analyst for NBC News, is representing model Janice Dickinson in her defamation suit against Cosby.

It's the first time the two have targeted the same defendant.

"It is always good to have Gloria Allred on your side," Bloom said. "She is relentless."

corina.knoll@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @corinaknoll @LAcrimes

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A version of this article appeared in print on November 13, 2015, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Allred again in scandal's glare - Taking on Bill Cosby presents high-profile attorney with another stint in the spotlight fighting for women." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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