March 10th, 2008
05:55 PM ET

Looking back: Spitzer's Harvard roots

I met Eliot Spitzer in the fall of 1984.  I was a first-year student at Harvard Law School; he was a second-year.  My criminal law professor was Alan Dershowitz, who was involved in a fascinating extracurricular activity.

He was representing Claus Von Bulow, who had been convicted of trying to murder his wife Sunny, in a sensational trial in Newport, Rhode Island.  Eliot was one of two students who were working as research assistants to Dershowitz, trying to win Von Bulow a new trial on appeal.


From the beginning, there was an odd contrast between Eliot and the Von Bulow case.  The attempted murder trial was a sordid drama, full of tales of illicit drug use and wild sex.  Eliot was the straightest of straight arrows.

He seemed so unlikely to be involved in such a matter.  But Eliot and his good friend Cliff Sloan were precocious and energetic young investigators, and they helped win Von Bulow a new trial; he was later acquitted.

Dershowitz wrote a book about the case, Reversal of Fortune, and it became a terrific movie, starring Jeremy Irons.  There is a composite character in the movie loosely based on Eliot and Cliff.

I’ve seen Eliot Spitzer turn into a prominent national figure in the years since, and we’ve remained friendly acquaintances.  I always got a kick out of the idea that he got his start in such an unseemly drama – which was so different from what his public persona became.

So today’s news is especially shocking to me, and especially sad. 

– Jeffrey Toobin, CNN Sr. Legal Analyst

Filed under: Eliot Spitzer • Jeffrey Toobin
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Tom Elliott

    I watched your panel segment last night with Alan Dershowitz, Lisa Bloom, and Jeffrey Toobin and then later I read on the web that Eliot Spitzer was a research assistant to Dershowitz. In the interest of full disclosure I believe that information should have been made available to all viewers during the panel discussions in order to lend some balance to Dershowitz's strident defense of Spitzer. Jeffrey Toobin made clear his basis for commenting on Spitzer. When Dershowitz was asked how he would defend Spitzer that was a fair question to ask him as a defense attorney but it should have been caveated with "as a former student and research assistant" how would you defend him? It certainly would have cast his response in a different light.

    March 12, 2008 at 9:48 am |
  2. john kushmaul

    In the movie 'Reversal of Fortune' was the character of 'Ellen Spitzer' based on the real life Elliot Spitzer? I haven't seen the movie in a while... remember liking it.
    The Von Bulow- Spitzer-Hollywood gender change-Dershowitz connection is mildly interesting...

    March 12, 2008 at 12:46 am |