Leslie Abramson

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Leslie Abramson
Leslie Hope Abramson

(1943-10-06) October 6, 1943 (age 75)
EducationQueens College
UCLA School of Law
Spouse(s)Tim Rutten

Leslie Hope Abramson (born October 6, 1943) is an American criminal defense attorney best known for her role in the legal defense of Lyle and Erik Menendez.[1]


Born in Flushing, Queens, New York, Abramson graduated from Queens College, and in 1969 received a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from UCLA School of Law.[2][3]


Early career[edit]

Abramson was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1970. She began her career in the Los Angeles County Public Defender's office, where she worked for six years.[1] She entered private practice as a defense attorney in 1976,[3] and developed a reputation as a fierce advocate for her clients.[1] She was twice named trial lawyer of the year by the L.A. Criminal Courts Bar Association.[3][1] Over the course of her career, only one client that she represented received the death penalty - a multiple murderer named Ricky Sanders, who shot eleven people in a walk-in freezer in a Bob's Big Boy restaurant, killing four of them.[3]

In 1988 Abramson was able to obtain a verdict of manslaughter with a sentence of probation, rather than murder, for 17-year old Arnel Salvatierra, who had killed his father. Abramson argued that the father had been abusive.[4][1] In 1990, Abramson won the acquittal of Dr. Khalid Parwez, "a Pakistani-born gynecologist accused of strangling and dismembering his 11-year-old son",[1] presenting an alibi for Parwez, and arguing that Parwez's brother, who had returned to Pakistan, was the likely culprit.[3]

The Menendez trial[edit]

Abramson gained national attention in the early 1990s, when she represented Erik Menendez in his trial for the murder of his parents, again presenting parental abuse as the defense for the crime alleged.[1] She stirred controversy when it was revealed during the trial that she had Erik's psychiatrist delete and rewrite passages of the doctor's notes.[5][4] When asked by the judge about it, she twice invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,[5] and later asserted that any discussions were protected by attorney-client privilege.[4] As a result, an investigation was launched by the state bar.[6] Following a three-year investigation, the state bar closed its case "after deciding that there was insufficient evidence to conclude she violated ethical rules in Menendez brothers' retrial."[7][1]

Post-Menendez career[edit]

In 1997, Abramson published a book, The Defense Is Ready: Life in the Trenches of Criminal Law.[1] In 2004, she was hired by Phil Spector, who was charged with fatally shooting actress Lana Clarkson at his suburban Alhambra, California mansion, replacing his former attorney, Robert Shapiro.[8] She resigned from representing Spector over conflicts between them; he went on to be convicted of murder, under different counsel.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1993, while the trial was still ongoing, she was parodied on Saturday Night Live, where she was portrayed by Julia Sweeney, along with John Malkovich and Rob Schneider as Lyle and Erik Menendez.[1] Sweeney portrayed Abramson again the following year as a talk show host defending the actions of Tonya Harding (played by Melanie Hutsell) and Slobodan Milošević (played by Patrick Stewart).

In the 1994 television film Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills, Abramson is portrayed by Margaret Whitton.

In 2017, Edie Falco portrayed Abramson in the first season of Law & Order True Crime, based on the Menendez trial.[9][1]

Personal life[edit]

Abramson was married to a pharmacist whom she divorced in 1969, with whom she had a daughter, Laine.[1] She married Los Angeles Times reporter Tim Rutten, and the couple adopted a son.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Dangremond, Sam (August 31, 2017). "12 Things You Should Know About Leslie Abramson, the Menendez Brothers' Attorney". Town & Country.
  2. ^ "All-Alumni Weekend 2007". UCLA School of Law. 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e John R. Vile, Great American Lawyers: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (2001), p. 287.
  4. ^ a b c Waxman, Sharon (May 4, 1996). "Sentenced to Silence". Washington Post.
  5. ^ a b "Counsel In The Hot Seat: Did Leslie Abramson Commit A Legal Sin?". Newsweek. April 22, 1996. Retrieved 2007-05-17.
  6. ^ "Menendez Lawyer Won't Face Investigation". The New York Times. October 12, 1997. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  7. ^ "The Aftermath". Crime Library. 2008. Archived from the original on 2007-05-06. Retrieved 2007-05-17.
  8. ^ "Phil Spector replaces lawyer, hires Leslie Abramson to defend him". CNN. February 3, 2004. Archived from the original on December 9, 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-17.
  9. ^ Petski, Denise (3 February 2017). "'Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders': Edie Falco To Play Leslie Abramson In NBC Drama Series".