88ºF

Alaska Bar sidesteps contentious Dershowitz keynote choice

FILE - Alan Dershowitz speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Just days after the announcement that famed trial attorney Alan Dershowitz would be the keynote speaker sparked a controversy among its members, the Alaska Bar Association has canceled this years annual conference. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - Alan Dershowitz speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Just days after the announcement that famed trial attorney Alan Dershowitz would be the keynote speaker sparked a controversy among its members, the Alaska Bar Association has canceled this years annual conference. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Just days after the announcement that famed trial attorney Alan Dershowitz would be the keynote speaker sparked a controversy among its members, the Alaska Bar Association has canceled this year’s annual conference.

The board cited several concerns for canceling, most importantly the rising number of cases of COVID-19 in Alaska.

The cancellation also ended the controversy over Dershowitz’s selection, made solely by Robert Stone, an Anchorage lawyer, as part of his job as the president of the board of governors to organize the annual conference. The board was going to meet this week to see if the invitation would stand after complaints were made.

“Once the convention was canceled, then all other issues became moot, so to speak, because the convention’s done, no speakers, no events,” he said.

The consternation over Dershowitz, a retired Harvard University law professor, stemmed in part from some of the people he has represented over the years, from Jeffrey Epstein to O.J. Simpson to Mike Tyson. He also helped defend President Donald Trump in the impeachment trials.

In addition, Virginia Roberts Giuffre says after meeting Epstein as a teenager in Florida in 2000, he flew her around the world and pressured her into having sex with numerous older men, including Dershowitz, which he denies.

Dershowitz told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the accusations are “provably false” and he “did nothing wrong in my representation of anybody.”

But for critics like Anchorage lawyer Scott Kendall, a former chief of staff for ex-Gov. Bill Walker, Dershowitz seems a complicated selection for the keynote in Alaska, where rates of violence against women are among the highest in the nation.

Kendall said Dershowitz has made the decision to represent certain people.

“Those have represented opportunities to him. I’m sure he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to represent Jeffrey Epstein,” Kendall said. “That’s his right as an attorney. If the downside to that is, he doesn’t get a free trip to Alaska and get paid $15,000 to give a speech, then cry me a river. I have no sympathy for that.”

Stone said the bar association’s governing board will meet in September to discuss the selection process for keynote speaker going forward.

Dershowitz said he would love to come to Alaska and give the keynote in 2021. He also said he’d publicly debate Kendall.

“By the criteria suggested by Mr. Kendall, they would have disinvited John Adams and Abraham Lincoln,” Dershowitz said. “And so I hope that whatever criteria they select will be consistent with the values of our American legal system.”

Kendall countered he “truly wouldn’t have the hubris to compare myself to a founding father and, you know, arguably the greatest president in the history of the country.”

“It’s our right as attorneys here who swear ourselves into the Alaska Bar to object if we think a keynote, as a place of honor, doesn’t reflect our values,” Kendall said. “And I think that’s what happened, and I think the process worked in this case.”