Gloria Allred: On the case
She's ON THE CASE ... as anyone who's been following politics well knows. She is America's best-known and most controversial women's rights attorney. As for the CASE, it involves an allegation of sexual harassment on the part of a presidential candidate. Our Cover Story is reported by Erin Moriarty of "48 Hours":
There she was this past week, again - a must-see event starring her newest client, and herself.
"Hello, I am attorney Gloria Allred. This is my client, Sharon Bialek...."
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain said he never heard of the client ("I don't even know who this woman is").
But he sure knows the lawyer. When quizzed by talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, "Have you considered hiring Gloria Allred as your attorney?" Cain replied, "I can't think of anything that I would hire her to do, okay?"
Plenty of women wouldn't agree. Earlier this year, we saw her at the side of the "exotic dancer" who received sex text messages from former Congressman Anthony Weiner. She was with women who claimed to be Tiger Woods' mistresses, and a client who complained that her womanly figure drew too many stares in the office.
"I see myself as a strong advocate and a person who works to win justice for women," Allred said.
"So, sometimes avenging wrongs?" asked Moriarty.
"Could be. I'm pretty tough."
Love Gloria Allred, or hate her - just don't ignore her.
Last year, after she took the case of an undocumented worker accusing California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman of cheating her out of housekeeper wages, Whitman's approval ratings plummeted ... and ultimately Whitman lost the election.
Allred's in-your-face style may not win her many fans with politicians or philandering husbands. Still, Allred's familiarity has bred plenty of contempt ... and made her a frequent target of fun on late-night television
"And of course Gloria Allred is representing the maid," Jay Leno joked. "How about we let the maid stay and we deport Gloria Allred?"
"I'll venture to say that more people know her name than who the vice-president is," laughed attorney Nathan Goldberg. "If nobody knew who she was, there wouldn't be a joke!"
Goldberg has been Allred's law partner in Los Angeles for more than 30 years.
"Gloria always stands up for what she believes," Goldberg told Moriarty. "She doesn't take an opinion poll. She says what she thinks, lets the chips fall where they may, and she takes the heat. She doesn't shy away from it."
How would she describe herself? "I'm a civil rights attorney. I'm a victim right's attorney."
She's also a bit of a scold - publicly castigating actor Charlie Sheen for his treatment of women ("His sense of arrogance and entitlement is disgusting"), even though she wasn't involved in any case against him.
"I know how the system works," said Allred, "and so I know that it can work better, but that it does take advocacy."
"Don't you sometime just want to say, 'Let someone else do it?' Why does it always have to be you?" asked Moriarty.
"It doesn't always have to be me," she replied. "And we want millions of someone elses to do it. But if I know what needs to be done and there's no one else doing it, then I need to do it.
Lisa Bloom, Gloria Allred's only child (and a lawyer herself), says Allred was different from every other mother she knew
Lisa was even one of Allred's earliest cases.
Bloom recalls that when she was sent home in fifth grade for wearing pants to a school square dance, "She marched into school the next day and said, 'That was discrimination and that was wrong.' And guess what? They allowed me to square dance ever after.
"You know, some moms would have said, 'Don't worry about it, honey,' made me cupcakes. My mom got in there and changed the policy - and not just for me, but for other girls."
At age seven, Lisa was already joining her mom at public demonstrations.
"I remember somebody saying to me, 'How could you take that little girl on a picket line?'" Allred said. "And I said, 'Well, actually I'm kind of embarrassed that it took me so long to have her come onto a picket line."
Gloria Allred grew up in Philadelphia, planning to be a teacher. She got married at 19 when she was a sophomore in college, had her daughter a year later, and was divorced before she graduated.
"As my father would have said, I went through the college of hard knocks," Allred said.
But life only got tougher. Allred said she met a doctor on vacation in Mexico, was raped at gunpoint, and became pregnant.
"That's when I found out, though, that you couldn't have a legal abortion, what you had to have was an unsafe and illegal abortion, which I did have, and from which I almost died."
That experience, she says, turned her into a fighter for women's rights.
At age 33, Allred, a high school teacher, became a lawyer.
She learned quickly how to grab headlines. In the early '80s, she sued New York's all-male Friars Club successfully to become its first female member.
Henny Youngman once said, "Some people bring happiness wherever they go; Gloria Allred brings happiness whenever she goes."
"OK, well, that was cute. That was a cute line," said Allred.
"Doesn't bother you?" asked Moriarty.
"Yeah, it would just need the ba-da bump! " ...
But it's no joke that today there are few actors in Hollywood more skilled at grabbing the spotlight for herself and those she represents:
"So the attorney argument is garbage - therefore, properly placed IN the garbage bag," she dmeonstrated in one case.
"When she calls a press conference, we all go because we want to see what's going to happen," said Jim Moret, who works for the celebrity television news magazine "Inside Edition." He is not troubled by the idea that Allred uses the press to apply pressure.
"No one's forcing us to go to those news conferences," said Moret. "But because of those news conferences, her clients get attention, and an issue that we might not otherwise talk about gets attention.
"I think if you had a man doing what she does, you'd call him a champion. With Gloria, you use the 'B word.'"
The better "B words" might be Big Bucks. Allred claims that over the years she has won a quarter of a billion dollars just in sex harassment suits!
"We'll do what it takes, as long as it's legal, peaceful, I'll do whatever, whenever, however to win," she said.
Take the case of Rachel Uchitel, the self-professed mistress of golfer Tiger Woods. In December 2009, as she was about to appear with Allred in front of cameras to tell her story, Allred abruptly cancelled the press conference. Did Woods pay a reported $10 million for her client's silence?
On this matter, Allred is uncharacteristically discreet.
"Can you explain why that press conference was cancelled at the last minute?" asked Moriarty.
"No, I cannot," Allred replied.
"Was there a settlement?"
"Why not? I would assume from your 'no comment' that there had to have been a settlement."
"I have no comment," said Allred.
"So you're not just going to answer that question? Why not?"
"I have no comment on why I have no comment."
While Allred is known best for her celebrity clients, she says she does most of her work out of the spotlight for women like Rita Milla, who said as a teenager she was abused by a couple of Catholic priests for a few years.
Allred took her case long before these type of lawsuits against the Catholic Church were common. She worked on the case, without getting paid, for more than two decades. "Twenty-three years, that's the longest for any case," Allred said.
In the end, she helped Milla win a half-million dollar settlement.
The impeccably-turned-out attorney turned 70 this year. If her beach house in Malibu is any indication, she no longer HAS to work. Yet Gloria Allred shows no signs of softening, nor slowing down.
"Do you even ever take a vacation?" asked Moriarty.
"No, nor do I wish to take a vacation," Allred said. "This is what I am meant to do. This is what there is a need for me to do. I have a duty to do it. I love to do it. I have a passion for justice. And this is what I hope to do for the rest of my life."
For more info:
© 2011 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.