LOS ANGELES — William H. Ginsburg, a seasoned medical malpractice attorney who bolted to national prominence in the brutal arena of Washington politics as Monica Lewinsky’s lawyer, died Monday at his home in the San Fernando Valley city of Sherman Oaks. He was 70.
The cause was cancer, said his daughter-in-law Virginia Ginsburg.
In 1998 Ginsburg was a senior partner in a Beverly Hills medical malpractice firm, where he had a sterling track record defending unpopular clients. He represented the physician accused of covering up the cause of entertainer Liberace’s death from AIDS and the cardiologist who examined Loyola Marymount University basketball star Hank Gathers just before the young player’s sudden death during a game.
He also defended a Glendale hospital in a case that wound up helping to establish the foundation for a patient’s right to die.
“He was a superb jury trial lawyer,” said Los Angeles attorney George Stephan, who worked with Ginsburg for 25 years. “His cases were very difficult … but he was just very insightful about what was important to the jurors and the justice system.”
It was Ginsburg’s longtime friendship with Lewinsky’s physician father that landed him in the middle of the biggest scandal to hit Washington since Watergate.
Lewinsky was the former White House intern who found herself in legal jeopardy for allegedly lying under oath about having sex with President Bill Clinton.
Shortly after the scandal broke in January 1998, Ginsburg agreed to represent her but quickly became a target himself, drawing barbs from prominent critics accusing him of amateurish missteps, including his early failure to secure immunity for his client.
On Feb. 1, 1998, he set a record for appearing on all five major Sunday political talk shows, fueling criticism that he was making too many public statements, including some that appeared to undermine Lewinsky’s credibility.
She avoided prosecution but not a grand jury appearance, during which she gave eyebrow-raising testimony about Clinton, a blue dress and a cigar.
Ginsburg said he would have relished the chance to take on independent counsel Kenneth Starr in front of the public and a jury. But after half a year in the media glare he turned Lewinsky over to a new defense team and returned to his private practice with a sense of relief.
“If you submitted the entire Bible to the press and one page had the word ‘sex’ printed on it, the press would focus on that word, rather than the other wonderful truths that we find in that book,” he told the Los Angeles Times after leaving Washington in June 1998.
The son of a lawyer who worked on Lyndon Johnson’s Senate staff, Ginsburg was born in Philadelphia on March 25, 1943. He moved to Los Angeles with his family in the early 1950s. After graduating from Hamilton High School, where he was active in the theater department, he studied political science and drama at the University of California, Berkeley. He later channeled his theatrical impulses into a different field, earning a law degree from the University of Southern California in 1967 and passing the bar in 1968.
Among his first clients were conscientious objectors, even though he was then served in the military as a member of the Army JAG Corps. Later, he represented many of the country’s largest pool and spa builders from lawsuits over swimming accidents, winning the majority of those cases even against the most sympathetic of plaintiffs left with paralysis and other severe injuries.