The Chilmark board of library trustees has agreed to allow attorney Alan Dershowitz back to the town’s library to promote his latest book, “Dershowitz on Killing: How the Law Decides Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die.”
The decision comes nearly a year after the high-profile defense attorney was denied his request to be included in a Chilmark library–hosted speaker series, subsequently threatening on a number of local and national media platforms to sue library representatives. He had claimed that rejecting his request was in violation of the First Amendment.
In the past few years, Dershowitz — who served as legal counsel for a number of well-known and controversial figures including O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Epstein, Harvey Weinstein, Julian Assange, and Patty Hearst — has claimed that it was his defense of former president Donald Trump that had sparked particular angst among the Martha’s Vineyard community. Dershowitz served on the defense team during Trump’s 2019 impeachment trial. In various newspaper, magazine, and radio interviews since, Dershowitz reiterated that he had been “shunned” and “canceled” by Vineyarders for defending the former president.
He’s previously claimed that the Vineyard community’s response — particularly that of Chilmark residents — to his representation of Trump has impacted Dershowitz’s social life on the Island, and caused him to lose friends. He argued that being denied a spot at the library in its speaker series was a punishment for that association.
But in response to Dershowitz’s request to participate in last year’s speaker series, the Chilmark library board of trustees denied it took discriminatory actions or violated his right to free speech. They instead cited concerns about crowd control, and noted that the attorney’s request was submitted too late to be considered.
This led to a wave of tumultuous and dramatic correspondence, and later threats of litigation.
Last month, at their April 12 meeting, the Chilmark Free Public Library board of trustees reconvened on the issue, and voted unanimously to offer Dershowitz a spot to speak on Tuesday, June 20, with the condition that the event will be limited to 25 people, and will take place on a day the library is closed.
“There was intense debate about having him speak after the bullying, intimidation, and lies that were said by him about the library to the national media last summer,” the April 12 meeting minutes state. “It was decided that he will be offered a spot to speak on Tuesday, June 20, a day that the library is closed. This will cut down on the interference his talk may cause to regular patrons.”
In a message to The Times last week, library board chair Jane Kaplan said the board considered having Dershowitz speak on his book “would be a topic of interest to the community.”
In a call with The Times, Dershowitz said he’s glad to be coming back to the Chilmark library, where he’s spoken many times over the 50 years that he’s been a seasonal resident of the Vineyard.
When asked whether he feels tensions between him and library reps have cooled since last summer, Dershowitz said there’s no tension on his end.
“I’m a lawyer. I represent people on behalf of the Constitution, and I’m going to continue to do that,” he said. “I would hope that the folks of Chilmark and the Vineyard would be accepting and tolerant of my representations.”
“I’ve always stuck to my principles,” he said. “I haven’t done anything different in the 50 years I’ve been in Chilmark … There should be no tension.”
Dershowitz said he believes the library’s denial stems largely from his defense of Trump in front of the Senate impeachment hearings in 2019, and warned of confusing his legal responsibilities with his political alignment or personal views.
“I’ve defended controversial people,” he said, but “people should not be judged by who they represent. That’s called McCarthyism.”
When asked if he particularly enjoys taking on controversial clients, Dershowitz said he doesn’t have a preference. “That’s my life,” he said. “It’s like asking a doctor if they enjoy treating sick people …I’m going to continue to represent controversial people. Some people will agree with it and some people won’t.”
“The more hated a person is, the more that person needs representation, and so I’m going to continue to represent people without regard to what people think about,” he said. “That’s my constitutional job.”
On whether his threat of a lawsuit against the Chilmark library board was meant to force the hands of the board into allowing him to hold a speaking engagement this year, Dershowitz did not comment, but said he’d had a good rapport with the library staff before his defense of Trump.
When asked if he’s spoken to the former president since his involvement with the impeachment case, Dershowitz said he hasn’t. “I don’t know him, I just represented him,” he said. “I’m going to vote against him.”
Dershowitz said the same was true in 2016, as he was an avid supporter of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
In the 2016 election, Dershwitz said he voted against Trump. “I’m a liberal Democrat. Probably more liberal on most issues than most of the people in Chilmark,” he said.
On the 25-person limit agreed upon by the board of trustees for his June event, Dershowitz said it’d only be a problem for him if that rule didn’t apply to all other event speakers.
“If they have a special rule for me, I’m not happy with that,” he said, despite the fact that Dershowitz himself was first to suggest the attendance limit last year in his letter to library director Ebba Hierta.
According to the Chilmark library program coordinator, events are not always restricted to 25 persons.
Still, Dershowitz contends that political pressure on Chilmark officials has impeded his ability to talk about his work, and maintains his position that he’s been unfairly discriminated against due to his legal clients.
“People can make their judgment about me, but they shouldn’t, under any circumstances, prevent me from speaking,” Dershowitz continued.
“When you prevent me from speaking, you’re preventing people from listening,” he said. “If people don’t want to come, that’s fine. That’s their choice. But if people want to come, they shouldn’t be prevented from hearing me.”