Hes written 27 books, signed on with some of Americas most controversial murder suspects and weighed in on cases from the Salem witch trial to the Boston Marathon bombing.
Two New Yorker cartoons, a New York Times crossword puzzle and a Trivial Pursuit question have used him as a topic.
Now Alan Dershowitz is headed for the Treasure Valley to share his thoughts with students, lawyers and others whod like to get in on the conversation.
I see everything I do as part of teaching, says Dershowitz, a Harvard University law professor for the past 49 years.
Whether in a classroom or a public lecture hall, Dershowitz gauges success by getting his audience thinking or talking about issues they havent thought about or talked about before, or thinking or talking about the issues in ways they havent before.
In Boise on Saturday, May 18, he plans to talk about whatever is interesting to him and his audience at that moment. Recently he has spoken out in national media about the Amanda Knox case people were confusing the fact she may not be legally guilty with her angelic face and last months Boston Marathon bombing, which he says raises issues of federal versus state jurisdiction that could determine whether prosecutors seek the death penalty against the surviving suspect.
This will be the first Gem State visit for Dershowitz, 74, who told the Statesman he accepted this invitation because of who invited him, and why.
Steve Trott asked me, he says. Whatever Steve Trott asks me to do, I do.
Trott, the Boise-based senior judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been coming to my classes in Harvard for close to 30 years (giving) a brilliant lecture on how prosecutors prepare for cases, Dershowitz says.
Trott will moderate A Conversation with Alan Dershowitz, an interactive evening presentation at the Egyptian Theatre.
Proceeds will go to the College of Idahos new endowed chair in Judaic studies the first such position in the Intermountain West. Thats another key reason Dershowitz, a Zionist who has been critical of some Israeli policies, is coming.
I have written about the need for more Jewish education and programs to learn about the Jewish heritage, he says, adding he was surprised to see such an endowed chair crop up in Idaho, which has a small but vibrant Jewish community.
College of Idaho history professor Howard Berger says Dershowitzs participation is a coup for the college and a testament to our successful development of awareness of Jewish studies at the College of Idaho.
Professor Dershowitz is the biggest name weve had on this campus since Ive been here, says Berger, a 30-year veteran of the college.
CONTROVERSY AND CLIENTS
Dershowitz will be the featured speaker at the Caldwell colleges graduation ceremonies, also on Saturday, May 18. He will receive an honorary doctorate one of about a dozen he says hes accepted over the years.
I used to get a lot until I worked on the O.J. Simpson case, he says. The offers totally stopped for a few years after that, and then they picked up again. Then when I became very active on Israel, it stopped for a bit.
He says he loves taking on controversial issues, but its not what people want at a graduation.
At the College of Idaho commencement, he plans to discuss the strength fostered by bringing together different cultures. At his later talk in Boise, topics will be more wide-ranging, and he will take questions from the audience.
Among the emerging issues in the law, he says, are gay rights, immigration and Americas position in the world.
Dershowitz has made headlines opining about most of the contentious legal developments of the past few decades.
And he has championed high-profile defendants whom many have found wildly unsympathetic including Simpson, the former football star accused of killing his wife who enlisted a legal dream team that ultimately helped him win not-guilty verdicts on two murder charges in 1995.
Among the first high-profile cases Dershowitz took on was the 1983 appeal of socialite Claus von Bulows conviction on a charge of trying to kill his wealthy wife. The conviction was overturned two years later,, and Dershowitzs book Reversal of Fortune was turned into a movie that featured actor Ron Silver as Dershowitz.
He certainly played me well as a lawyer, but Im a much better basketball player than the movie suggested, he says. Dershowitz really got upset with the actors endlessly dribbling in a basketball scene.
A varsity basketball player in high school, he says he can still beat his 17-year-old grandson in a game of H-O-R-S-E, a basketball variation, thanks to a deadly corner shot.
My success on the court is as important to me as my success in court, he says.
PASSION AND BALANCE
A common thread in all of Dershowitzs pursuits, he says, is passion.
He says his father was a brawler who couldnt stand the idea of bullies and taught me to look out for the underdog.
Wealthy, successful people can be underdogs, he notes, and thats how he sees Simpson, because the entire country is against him and thinks hes guilty.
Deciding to take a case is not a matter of believing the defendant is innocent, Dershowitz says.
I start out every case with the presumption of guilt, just like a doctor should start out with a presumption of illness while figuring out the situation, he says. We live in a fair country where innocent people generally arent charged, but it does happen.
He says his chief advice to lawyers and law students is to try to balance a career of doing good and doing well.
Making money is a good thing, if you strike the appropriate balance, he says. Fifty percent of my cases are pro bono (no fee).
I see lawyers in the corporate world who spend their lives doing extraordinary, productive things, he says.
When former students come back to Dershowitz years later, well-paid but unsatisfied, I tell them, do something different.
You cant live for the weekend, he says. TGIF is one of the worst expressions ever. It should be Thank God Its Monday, or Tuesday.
The key, he says, is to find work you look forward to.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447