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Jewish Journal

Her Life Is Not All a Trial

Q&A with Patty Glaser

by Danielle Berrin

August 11, 2009 | 6:45 pm

Patty Glaser

Patty Glaser

Patty Glaser is a hard-hitting litigator who is widely considered to be one of Los Angeles’ most gifted — and feared — attorneys. From the 19th floor of the MGM tower that houses her firm Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard & Shapiro, Glaser talked with The Journal about what it’s like to be the best, how she deals with media scrutiny and why she’d adopt a Palestinian family.

Jewish Journal: In a 1998 Los Angeles Business Journal profile of you, the headline read, ‘The Lawyer Who Makes Opponents Cringe.’ How did that make you feel?
Patty Glaser: Good. My job is not to make opposing counsel comfortable.

JJ: What about when you get called ‘pitbull,’ or as Kim Basinger famously called you during trial, ‘Ms. Glacier?’
PG: I want you to respect me and take what I tell you as gospel, but I don’t care if you like me.

JJ: Last week, the Hollywood Reporter named you one of the 100 best lawyers in the entertainment business.
PG: I’m not sure they said ‘best’ did they? The first time I got on a list, a thousand years ago, I was all excited and I took the list home to my husband and I said, ‘Sam, look I’m on this list — isn’t this great?’ He takes a minute, takes a look at the list, looks up, and he smiles and says, ‘Who are these people?’

JJ: Still, you are widely considered a preeminent entertainment attorney.
PG: I think that is a misapplication of the term. I do a lot of entertainment-related litigation, but I betcha it’s 40 percent of my practice.

JJ: Is there a downside to achieving your level of success?
PG: I could be a martyr and talk to you about the time it requires, but it would be fake. I work very hard but I’m not the smartest kid in the class. I work hard because I need to work hard — but I don’t consider that a sacrifice, because I enjoy it.

JJ: What do you do when you’re not working?
PG: I’m very involved in the community, on the board of Center Theatre Group, on the board of the Geffen Playhouse — I try to participate and have a voice.

JJ: So you’re an arts maven.
PG: Legitimate theater I love. I’m also very, very active with Hebrew University [of Jerusalem], which is hugely important to me. I think it is both the present and the future of the Jewish people.

JJ: How’d you become involved with Israel?
PG: I had a mentor named Harvey Silbert, who was a huge benefactor of Hebrew U. Harvey arranged my first trip to Israel. Shimon Peres was then the prime minister and we knew we had a meeting with the prime minister, but I frankly expected us to be going into an auditorium with 500 people. We get escorted back into the prime minister’s office and he comes in — he’s just left a meeting with Mubarak and Arafat — and now he’s meeting with me.

JJ: What did you talk about?
PG: We talked about how he is philosophically of the view that it didn’t matter how big Israel was geographically; it was the soul of the Jewish people. If it’s a sliver of land or a little bit bigger than a sliver of land, it didn’t matter that much. We had a significant disagreement about that.

JJ: Isn’t Hebrew University in a problematic location in East Jerusalem?
PG: It was started in 1925, but until 1967 you couldn’t get there. Except once a week buses would go in. Now of course Jerusalem is all united, but when they couldn’t get in regularly to East Jerusalem, they started other campuses.

JJ: I gather from that that you are not a supporter of a divided Jerusalem?
PG: I am not a supporter of a divided Jerusalem. Correct.

JJ: But you’re aware of the implications of that in creating a potential Palestinian state?
PG: I think that the Palestinians are huge victims of the Arab states that surround Israel. I actually think one of the things Jews should be doing is adopting Palestinian families, frankly, and supporting them. If I could figure out a way to do it where it was actually going to a family, I’d do it in a second. Because I don’t think we’re their enemies. I think that their enemies have been their own brothers and sisters.

JJ: You grew up in West Virginia. Were you raised in a Jewish home?
PG: How do you define that?

JJ: Whatever it means to you.
PG: We went to temple all the time. My father was president of the temple; my mother was president of the sisterhood. The Jewish population was less than 1 percent, but very wealthy. But there was a synagogue and a temple — it’s just typical of Jews, right? Less than 1 percent of the population and they still have a synagogue and a temple because they can’t get along.

JJ: Because of your work with Hollywood, you’ve gotten a lot of press attention — probably more than you would have otherwise. How have you managed that?
PG: Years ago I tried a case involving Kim Basinger. At the end of the trial somebody from People magazine called me and said, ‘We want to do an article about you,’ and I thought, ‘Great, we’ll talk about something having to do with the trial.’ Well, the article was going to be about what I wore to trial and what Kim Basinger wore to trial. I said, ‘I’m not going to talk to you about that,’ and she said ‘Well, why not?’ and I said, ‘Because it’s not interesting to me. That’s a ridiculous article.’

JJ: Do you feel added pressure because you’re under scrutiny?
PG: If it’s negative it’s because you don’t do well. And if you do well, you’ll be fine. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

JJ: Why’d you decide to become a lawyer?
PG: I like walking into a dark room and finding a door.

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