The Chilmark board of library trustees extended an olive branch to Chilmark resident and high-profile defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, offering to find a way to accommodate an appearance at their speaker series in the summer of 2023.
The meeting between Dershowitz and the trustees was held August 11. The Times obtained a copy of the Zoom session, during which the trustees explained their stance and Dershowitz reiterated his claims that he was being punished for his legal representation of former President Donald Trump. He has repeatedly called it a First Amendment issue, while library director Ebba Hierta has said it’s about crowd control and process.
“Chilmark library has never violated anyone’s First Amendment rights or discriminated against anyone on the basis of partisanship, viewpoint, or who they represented,” trustee Jane Kaplan said. “Any allegations to the contrary are not supported by the facts.”
Janet Weidner, the trustees’ chair, said this year Dershowitz didn’t ask until mid-July to be included — after this year’s slate of speakers had been selected. “Our policy clearly states we set the schedule in the spring,” Weidner said. “July was too late. That’s why Alan was denied engagement in the spring.”
Dershowitz rejected the idea that it was about scheduling. He said previously he had actually been invited by the library to speak on several occasions. That is, before he represented Trump in 2018. “In 2018 a group of people in Chilmark started a campaign, a cabal, to try to cancel me as a result of the fact I attempted to defend the Constitution on behalf of a man I didn’t like, a man I didn’t vote for, a man who I didn’t support, but a man who became the center of a constitutional controversy,” Dershowitz said.
Dershowitz called it the “first time in modern history that liberals have attempted to censor a speaker.”
After a lengthy back-and-forth, the library board of trustees voted unanimously to consider an apology letter sent by Dershowitz to library director Ebba Hierta as an application to be included in the 2023 speaker series hosted by the library, but not until next spring.
In that letter, Dershowitz offered the library three options — limit the number of people to 25, hold it outside at the library to accommodate more people, or to hold it at a larger venue.
Town counsel Ronald Rappaport was on the Zoom call, but only said that he had a message from select board chair James Malkin. Malkin wanted the library board to know they had his support, and offered town resources to assist them.
While Dershowitz, who has threatened to sue the library on national television, in a New York Daily News op-ed, and in a previous interview with The Times, was disappointed about waiting until next spring for an answer, he told The Times on August 18 that he will wait for the spring to make a decision on his next steps.
“It was a good meeting. We each presented our perspectives. But no decision was made. They kicked the can down the road,” Dershowitz said. “In the meantime, they did remedy another situation.”
According to Dershowitz, the library had copies of books he wrote prior to representing Trump as part of their collection, but not the nine books he’s written since. He donated copies, and the library has put them into circulation, he said.“That’s a victory for the readers of Chilmark. I’m very happy with that,” he said.
Dershowitz said his goal is not to sue the library, but his stance is about principles. “I’m considering my options,” he said. “I’m hoping we come to an appropriate resolution in the spring. I never had to ask to speak. They invited me. I only asked when they didn’t invite me … I don’t want to sue them. I love that library. I just donated books to the library. The last thing I want to do is sue the library, but I have to live by my principles.”
Hierta was put in the national spotlight by Dershowitz, and previously told The Times she received hate mail from a member of the Proud Boys. “I am deeply appreciative that the library trustees backed their own policy in their decision,” she told The Times before declining further comment.
Since President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate was raided by the FBI, there have been reports that Trump is having difficulty getting a lawyer to take his case. The Times asked Dershowitz if he’d been contacted by the former president.
“I can’t say,” Dershowitz. ““He’s going to have a hard time getting a lawyer because of what happened to me in Chilmark.” Dershowitz said he’s talked to attorneys who have turned down Trump. “They say after what happened to you in Chilmark, we don’t want to lose friends.”
Dershowitz then went on to talk about several occasions that he’s been “canceled” on the Island, including a recent engagement party. The Times has not yet independently verified those claims.
“I want to make it clear, I have a thick skin,” Dershowitz said. “I don’t care about dinner parties. What I care about is denying people the right to read my books and hear me speak. My wife didn’t even agree with me representing Trump. She’s been treated as a pariah.”