Susan Estrich

SUSAN ESTRICH

She is almost as famous as the women she represented and the men she has held responsible.

She has been standing up for women’s rights — decades before anyone uttered the words “Me Too.”

So why is she out there defending herself? If there is anyone who doesn’t need to apologize, it’s her.

According to Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, in their new Harvey Weinstein book, “She Said,” is part of the problem instead of the solution and does not put her clients’ best interests first.

Short of stealing from clients, that’s about the most serious allegation you can make against a lawyer. And it’s simply not true.

Kantor and Twohey are great reporters. But Gloria Allred is right: They seem to know almost nothing about confidential settlements and even less about the reason so many victims choose that course.

I came out as a rape victim in 1981. I was teaching criminal law at Harvard, barely three years out of law school, and I decided to introduce rape into the criminal law curriculum. I told my students that I would do my best to be fair but I could not promise objectivity. I told them why.

Two things happened next: The death threats started (and never stopped), and half a dozen victims came to tell me their stories. In almost 40 years, the stream has been steady.

Mostly when the girls tell me their stories, I just listen. These are not easy stories to tell. I do not sit in judgment. Sometimes I cry with them.

But the one thing I would never tell a woman who is suffering is that she has an obligation not to take care of herself but to go public. Clearly, that’s what Kantor and Twohey think lawyers like Allred and me should do. So what if it violates the Code of Ethics? Isn’t sacrificing your clients’ well-being and sacrificing her reputation worth it if it might put Weinstein in jail?

For Kantor and Twohey, the answer is plainly yes. But it’s not the answer any lawyer with integrity would offer.

The first thing I tell the young women who come to my office is that we both need to put the victim first. I owe my loyalty to a client — a living, breathing human being — not to a policy, not to catching a bad guy. Unlike Kantor and Twohey, I reassure them that the most important thing is to help them get past the nightmare without their self-esteem being destroyed and without them being unable to have a healthy relationship.

“Don’t tell anyone,” my mother told me the next morning. “No decent man will ever want you.” Maybe she was right. I certainly never stopped being afraid.

And, yes, in some cases, when I am dealing with women who need time and can’t afford it; who need therapy but don’t have a dime; who are afraid to go home but have nowhere else to go; who are trying to rebuild their lives, a private and confidential settlement is by far the best choice. Not a press conference. Not a front-page story. Not anything that would be a reason for other men not to hire her. But that decision is not mine or Gloria’s. Lawyers advise, and clients decide.

No one — certainly not reporters trying to sell a book — has the right to demand that a woman who has been the victim of rape or assault or harassment sacrifice herself again for a greater cause, a cause both Gloria and I have devoted our lives to. Harvey Weinstein’s vulgarity and abuse were hardly secrets in Washington. There were enablers. And assistants. Did no one on the all-male board have any idea of behavior that half of Hollywood knew about? Instead of ragging on Gloria and blaming the victims, why not put the blame (in addition to on Weinstein himself) on the powerful men who cared more about making movies with him than protecting women from him?

As a lawyer, I have found myself on both sides of confidential settlements, including with Gloria. In every case, the man accused wanted privacy, not because he had committed a civil or criminal wrong but to avoid embarrassment. And, yes, the woman wanted it, too, because she wanted to move on, to move past the nightmare, rather than make it her career. That’s not what Gloria and I did, but we, as lawyers, must always put our clients ahead of our causes.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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