February 09, 2016
The flame that occasionally rises in her welcoming dark-chocolate eyes is momentarily gone as she runs down an impassioned tale of the tape, leaning over a thick oak dining table. The bluster is gone. There are no cameras or jutting microphones around. Just her and her solemn voice speaking sternly about injustice.
Gloria Allred, in a crisp purple pant suit, is against it again.
The famous attorney who once lived in the narrow row house with the paper-thin walls at 5533 Springfield Ave. in Southwest Philadelphia is checking off the boxes:
They’re both Philadelphia icons (who became titans in their respective fields).
She went to Girls High, where she graduated; he went to Central, where he didn’t graduate.
She went to Penn; he went to Temple.
Both went to Los Angeles in the 1960s to find fame and fortune.
Both were honored by the President of the United States (Allred in 1986 by Ronald Reagan with the President's Award for Outstanding Volunteerism).
Both were born in July.
But there is a major difference, too, as she points out: She’s never been accused of a crime. He has. And she will try to prove it.
Gloria Allred had never met Bill Cosby in person until she deposed him in October 2015, when Allred represented Judy Huth, in the case of Judy Huth v. William H. Cosby. Huth sued Cosby in a civil lawsuit in December 2014, alleging he molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974 – when she was 15.
The Huth lawsuit is the first consequential case against the comedian since Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee, sued him in 2005. Cosby settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount, after he gave a deposition in the case.
Allred represents 29 of the 50-plus accusers against Cosby. As their counsel, she’s up against not only a giant in the entertainment world, but one of the most prestigious and selective law firms in the world. (Cosby's attorney is Christopher Tayback, a former prosecutor, partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and son of the late actor Vic Tayback.) The Los Angeles-based firm has 700-plus lawyers on staff.
That’s about a fair fight. Cosby and his legal team may not know what they’re in for.
Allred's a 5-foot-2 ball of tenacity whose roots are firmly entrenched in a bed of determination.
She took on the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and won. She’s taken on celebrities and won. She’s battled for changes involving outdated laws regarding women’s rights and won.
"Being angry isn’t going to solve anything. I don’t like spending time thinking on the past, because it takes away from my clients and how I can help their needs. Every moment is so precious. I have to help them find the strength and courage to find justice.” – Gloria Allred
She was a single mother. She faced domestic abuse. She was raped at gunpoint in the mid-1960s by a well-known Mexican doctor, underwent an illegal abortion (her only refuge at the time in California), suffered a near-fatal infection, almost bled to death, developed a fever of 106 and survived — after being packed in ice and given an IV. One of her most vivid recollections was of a nurse making rounds who felt compelled to utter, “This will teach you a lesson.”
Allred, who will turn 75 on July 3, though looks like she’s in her mid-50s, has the energy of someone half her age. Her tireless defense of women who have been discriminated against stems from the personal ordeal she still lives with today. Her firebrand approach was shaped and developed through her life experiences, yet she never succumbed to them, never let them twist and turn her into something she didn’t want to be.
“None of us are spared from challenges,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Life is what’s happening when you’re planning other things. You can’t undo what happened. I’ve never had time for depression. You take anger, which everyone has if they feel they’ve been the victim of injustice, and use it as a source of energy. Instead of turning it inward as rage, they turn it inward and become depressed. They become influenced by controlled substances, drugs or alcohol.
“Or you can take that anger and that rage and turn it outward to do something constructive. Fight back against injustice, either through the courts or the legislature to change the law. In some other way it’s important to have a voice against injustice and take action. To me, that’s healthier and a bigger impact on the person who suffered injustice. That’s what I do. I don’t look at the glass as half-empty, I look at it as half-full. I have a passion for justice. What I have suffered, some of which I talked about in my book (Fight Back and Win), some of which I’ll never talk about publicly, it is because of my life experience that I do what I do.
Allred said that when she was younger, she may have viewed those challenges as bad luck.
“Maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong person," she said. "Maybe I didn’t get child support because I said something wrong. As women, we’re taught to self-blame, not to point the finger at the perpetrator. As I got into my law practice, I began to see patterns. Systematic patterns. For example, ineffective systems to help mothers collect child support on time. That encouraged fathers not to pay their child support. Why? There’s no consequences if they failed to do it. I got involved with working to change that. The same thing with rape.
“I saw so many women that were victims of violence and I realized that laws and systems had to be changed. As I quoted Gandhi in the beginning of my book, ‘We must be the change we wish to see in the world,’ and I encourage others to be the change they want see. Being angry isn’t going to solve anything. I don’t like spending time thinking on the past, because it takes away from my clients and how I can help their needs. Every moment is so precious. I have to help them find the strength and courage to find justice.”
The origins of the fighter emerged on Springfield Avenue. The only child of Morris and Stella Bloom was a feisty, eager and precocious girl. Gloria read anything she could get her hands on. Her father was a door-to-door salesman selling photo enlargements. Most knocks on the door were met with rejection. Still, he kept it up, six days a week. There were even some occasions, as the neighborhoods began to change, when Morris was attacked.
A few cuts and bruises weren’t going to stop him. The next morning, he was up again, making sure breakfast was made for Gloria before she left for school, sliding her some lunch money and then he was off until dinner to canvass another area.
"Gloria does not forget where she came from. That’s not always the case when people become successful. When her granddaughters visited Philadelphia, Gloria wanted me to make sure I gave them a tour of where she grew up.” – Fern Caplan, a lifetime Allred friend
The Blooms didn’t have much in the way of material things. They never had a car. What they did have was a small, shoebox house full of love. Gloria would routinely hear her father come in, feet traipsing in the doorway from another exhaustive day, and come bounding down the steps to hug him. And there were the Sundays when Gloria’s head would slowly rest on her father’s shoulder, as she fell asleep on the No. 13 trolley on their way home from the library.
“My father never said what I should be doing,” Allred said. “He always said never worry about going to college because he’ll find a way to pay for it, and I never asked for anything from my parents, because I knew we didn’t have it. I never thought of it as being poor. I just knew I didn’t have what a lot of other girls had. I didn’t have much in the way of clothes, like other girls. My next-door neighbor had a TV and we used to go over and watch it. I always understood that I should get an education.”
There was a wall across the street from Allred’s house. She thought that education would get her over that wall and into a new world. That was the impetus to take the test for Girls High, where on the first day of school she met Fern Brown, who would become Fern Caplan, a lifelong friend.
“I sat behind Gloria in homeroom, and my mother had a great sense of timing,” Caplan recalled. “My mother had my eyes refracted the day before school began to see if I needed glasses. In those days, they didn’t have the drops to make the blurriness go away, so Gloria turned to me and said, ‘You look like you’re having trouble, can I help you?’ We’ve been best friends ever since.
“She was a helper when she was 14. I practically lived at her home," Caplan continued. "I had less than Gloria, being raised by a single mom. I was there at least one night a week. They were loving parents who lived for her. Gloria has that love of life her mother had, and she has her father’s tenacity. I don’t know of anyone, of any means, that took care of their parents the way Gloria did her mom and dad.
“Girls High formed the important years of my life, and I think it did for Gloria, too. Girls High was run like a private school. You had to take a test to get in. We were also encouraged to do anything we wanted to do. We are more like sisters than friends. Gloria does not forget where she came from. That’s not always the case when people become successful. When her granddaughters visited Philadelphia, Gloria wanted me to make sure I gave them a tour of where she grew up.”
Allred went to the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated with honors with a degree in English in 1963. But not first without being swept away by the tall, dashing Peyton Bray. He was personable, made her laugh, and she recalls, was very good looking. There was just one thing: he was bipolar and, consequently, abusive to Gloria. They met her freshman year, were married when she was a sophomore, she gave birth to her daughter Lisa as a junior. They were divorced by the time Allred was a senior. (Bray eventually killed himself.)
“That bothered me,” Caplan said. “It pained me to see her go through that with Bray. At that time, though, none of us knew what being bipolar meant. Just that one moment he could be one way, and another moment someone totally different.”
In 1966, Allred and her young daughter moved to California. She left, as she likes to say, with two suitcases, $100 and a lot of dreams.
Allred found herself suddenly thrust into the role of a single mother, tracking down her ex for child support while teaching English at Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia. She somehow managed to find the time to commute two nights a week to New York University to get a master’s degree in education, and teach at the Cerebral Palsy Foundation on her free weeknight evenings, while she and Lisa were temporarily living with her parents.
In 1966, when Lisa turned five, Allred opted to move to California. She left, as she likes to say, with two suitcases, $100 and a lot of dreams. Los Angeles sent out recruiters throughout the country to coax teachers to work in Watts, a year after the infamous riots. During a trip to Acapulco, she had dinner with a local doctor, who invited her to make some house calls with him. The final call was to a motel, where he told her a patient was staying. She walked into an empty room and, according to her autobiography, he raped her at gunpoint. When she returned to Los Angeles, she found out she was pregnant.
“You move on,” she said. “I had a young daughter to raise on a limited income. I wanted to (take legal action) but thought, ‘Who would believe me?’”
In 1969, she married multi-millionaire William Allred, the owner of an aircraft-service company called Donallco. Around this time, she had the urge to go to law school. Gloria had earned a credential at the University of Southern California to be a high school principal. She thought she could do more good as an attorney, so she attended the Loyola University School of Law, where she met her legal partners, Michael Maroko and Nathan Goldberg. The trio has been together now for 40 years.
Gloria Allred, who divorced William Allred in 1985, is worth around $20 million, although you wouldn’t know it. Her Mercedes is a 2002 model. She doesn’t take vacations in the South of France. In fact, she doesn’t take vacations. She works on holidays and weekends. On a visit to Philadelphia several weeks ago, she finished a legal proceeding at 2 a.m., was at a Pro Choice rally at Broad and Walnut streets at noon that day, had a media session early that evening, and concluded a snowy afternoon with dinner among family friends.
There is a salt-of-the-earth quality to her that makes her appealing to the everyman. She’s asked if she ever sleeps and she laughs. She does manage to sleep, and does find time to eat. But she stresses, “Fighting injustice is very good for the health. I have several cars, but I don’t give them up until they have a complete nervous breakdown. I’m blessed with whatever I have. I don’t yearn for more. I don’t need more things; I don’t want more things; I don’t need new things. I just want justice. I have a passion for justice.”
"Growing up in Philadelphia is the basis of everything I’ve done, the roots to my tree. I’m still the girl from 5533 Springfield Ave. in Southwest Philly.” – Gloria Allred
“Gloria’s very real,” said Stephen Utain, the grandson of one of Allred’s closest friends, the late Sandy Verbet. “I consider her my grandmother at this point. I think what I love about her most is that fire. On the inside, you won’t come across a more kind-hearted person than her. If you want advice, you go to her, because she will tell you the way it is. She never stops working. Time is very important to her. It’s unbelievable to see her go, because her passion for the law is how you would see in a great professional athlete.
“She loves and believes in what she does. It’s why she is the way she is, because she doesn’t want anyone to go through what she went through. What also keeps her going every single day is to help someone. She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met, and to anyone that meets her, it’s hard to say someone else is ahead of her.”
Caplan laughs at the suggestion that you can take the girl out of Philly, but you can’t take Philly out of the girl.
“That’s Gloria,” she says. “Bill Cosby doesn’t know her tenacity and the fact she’ll keep going until she obtains what she does for those victims. Cosby needs to be reduced. Gloria is the one to do it.”
Cosby's recent failure to convince a Montgomery County judge to throw out criminal charges (he is appealing) was welcome news to Allred, who believes – perhaps not surprising – that the judge got it right. A former county district attorney, Bruce Castor, testified he made a deal with Cosby's deceased attorney that he would not be prosecuted. That would clear the way for Cosby to testify in Constand's civil case against him. But the alleged deal was never put in writing.
"The reason for this secret undocumented deal was so that Mr. Cosby could testify in Ms. Constand's civil case," Allred said. "Since when is it the duty of a district attorney to concern himself with civil cases?"
There are more depositions ahead for Cosby. With more than three dozen of Allred's clients claiming similar acts by Cosby, the scope of the case makes it unique. She is the only attorney who has successfully deposed the entertainer.
“We’re fighting the fight," Allred said. "We have the burden of proof in our case and we’re vigorously litigating it. We’re the only ones who have been permitted to take his deposition so far. For many celebrities, who I won’t name, they do have a sense of entitlement and the arrogance of power. Often celebrities are surrounded by ‘yes’ people that certainly enable them and encourage them. They may condone or overlook what they do. I’m not that person. All I care about is the client, the victim — and winning them as much justice as is possible under the circumstances.
“I don’t know where that fight in me comes from; probably my parents. I don’t know how not to do this. You have to take this energy to apply equal opportunity and equal protection under the law. That means there are lawyers that are going to be there to support the real heroes, my clients, to vindicate their rights. There are people who sacrificed and died for these rights to exist. No one gave them their rights, everyone had to win their rights, and now we have to enforce those rights. You fight for those rights.
"Growing up in Philadelphia is the basis of everything I’ve done, the roots to my tree," she said. "I’m still the girl from 5533 Springfield Ave. in Southwest Philly.”