New York – Ten years after prominent lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz agreed to donate his papers to his alma mater, Brooklyn College, the collection of letters, case files, photos and other materials opened to scholars and the public on Monday.
The 1,000 boxes of materials include correspondence with high-profile clients including Claus von Bulow, Leona Helmsley and Mike Tyson, but attorney-client privilege will keep some of the papers private.
Brooklyn College is part of the public City University of New York system and was free when Dershowitz attended in the 1950s. He chose the college for his papers to show his gratitude for the education he received there.
“Brooklyn College really changed my life,” Dershowitz said in a telephone interview Monday.
Dershowitz said he had “about a 68 average” in high school. “My life changed so dramatically between high school and college, basically from being a loser to being a winner,” he said.
He added, “I think I’d be selling shoes in downtown Brooklyn today if not for Brooklyn College.”
It was Professor Anthony Cucchiara, the college’s archivist, who asked for the collection when Dershowitz called with a research question in 2001.
“I asked him, ‘Have you considered where you’re going to deposit your papers?'” Cucchiara recalled. Dershowitz didn’t need much persuading.
Dershowitz, 73, went on to Yale Law School after Brooklyn College and has taught at Harvard for decades. He has written several books including “Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case,” the basis of the 1990 film, and is known as a passionate advocate for Israel who speaks out frequently on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Cucchiara said it has taken the better part of a decade to classify and preserve the materials that Dershowitz donated. Another fifty boxes are waiting to be cataloged, and more documents are delivered periodically.
Dershowitz said his 50-year legal career should yield plenty of material for scholars.
“I’ve done 33 murder cases,” he said. “They’ll see how I won them. I won them by the use of science. I have all the scientific material that I used in my cases from Claus von Bulow on.”
Additionally, he cited papers from his involvement in the movement to free Soviet dissidents such as Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov as well as First Amendment cases from the Pentagon Papers to Wikileaks.
A selection from the Dershowitz archive will be on view as an exhibit at the Brooklyn College Library until Jan. 3.
The exhibit includes a handwritten letter from Abbie Hoffman expounding on his Jewish identity and a thank-you note from Eliot Spitzer, a 1984 Harvard Law graduate who went on to become governor of New York before resigning in disgrace. Spitzer thanked Dershowitz “for what was without question the highlight of my law school education.”