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Boies Will Be Boies

Beneath the superlawyer's unflappable, midwestern affect is a monomaniacal competitor, a man who hates to lose. So what does David Boies think about the Supreme Court decision that handed him his most bitter defeat? That it was worse, in some ways, than Dred Scott.

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All is glossy and bright inside the fourteenth-floor federal courtroom. The marble floors, the walnut paneling, everything seems buffed shiny as a new pair of Prada loafers.

The crowd, standing room only, thrums with eager anticipation. Three sketch artists bump brushes trying to capture the scene. In the front row of spectators is Fran Lebowitz, former author and current insider wit-about-town. Next to her sits Marci Klein, the long blonde powerhouse producer from Saturday Night Live. Today she's appearing in the role of supportive daughter -- to Calvin Klein, who sits a few feet ahead at the plaintiff's table.

As always, Calvin is inside the velvet ropes. Occasionally he peeks over his shoulder at his business partner and adversary, Linda Wachner, the titan in huge red-framed glasses who runs Warnaco, the behemoth apparel company that manufactures and distributes Klein's designs. Last year, Klein found out that Warnaco was stacking his precious name next to SUV-size packs of Huggies in giant warehouse stores. Alleging that his valuable brand was being irreparably sullied in such company and that Warnaco was altering jean designs without his permission, Klein sued for his freedom. This promises to be a gossipy battle, with millions of dollars and prodigious egos at stake.

Then Calvin Klein leans across the railing to get close to Marci and Fran, and lets all the tension out of the room with a single whisper. "The deal's done," Klein says.

"We're settling." Then he approaches Wachner, bends to kiss her, and says, "When all is said and done -- " " -- we're still partners!" Wachner says, completing his sentence and returning the kiss.

"Although he appears to enjoy and relate to different people, my view is that he's very insular and tribal," says a friend.

Now it's on to the tough issues. "Let's go to Balthazar to celebrate!" Lebowitz says.

"No, let's go to Odeon!" Marci says. "It's closer and the food's better!"

But the discussion halts and all heads turn when the true man-of-the-moment ambles within range. It's David Boies,

the superlawyer who humbled Bill Gates and changed Microsoft forever, who collected $512 million in damages for customers ripped off by Christie's and Sotheby's, and who became a cultural hero in the war to recount Florida's presidential ballots. The presence of Boies as Klein's trial lawyer is a major reason why all of a sudden there is no trial.

"I'm, uh, not going to breakfast," Boies says. His thinning brown hair sticks out at unpredictable lengths and angles. A plastic watch is strapped on top of Boies's coat sleeve. He's wearing his courtroom uniform: dark-blue suit and white button-down shirt with blue stripes, both from Lands' End; navy knit tie with squared-off bottom; nondescript black sneakers. One of Klein's cuffs costs more than all of what Boies is wearing.

Yet Boies is the cool guy here. Calvin Klein proudly introduces Boies to his daughter. Lebowitz can't get to Boies fast enough. Downstairs, exiting the courthouse, Klein draws a couple of reporters, but the cameras flock to Boies. He's not carrying a litigator's bag or a legal pad, or wearing a cell phone or a beeper or an overcoat. Boies wants it to look like the only weapon he needs against the elements and his opponents is his brain.

He stands in the slush on Worth Street calmly waiting for CNN to go live. It's cold, and when there's a short delay, Boies takes the Lands' End sweater that's slung over his shoulders fifties-coed-style and pulls it over his head, crookedly, so one end of his shirt collar juts out.

The interview finished, Boies waits as Jonathan Schiller, one of his partners, tries to locate their limo. A CNN cameraman bounces over. "I love you, man!" he shouts, grabbing Boies's right hand and arm and pumping it as Boies laughs. "I'm a Republican, but you're great! You're the best!"

Someone suggests hopping on the IRT. It's just two stops to Balthazar (Lebowitz won that case). "Yeah," says Boies, who's got nothing against the subway. "But how many stops to Armonk? I'm going back to work."

David Boies hates losing at anything, be it a rec-room Ping-Pong match with Garry Shandling or late-night poker with takeover artist Carl Icahn and financier Leon Black. Walking out of court after the Calvin Klein truce, Boies smiles and says all the right things to the press about the deal's serving his client's best interests. Then, in a quiet aside, Boies says, "But I'm a trial guy." He wants to win.

As of last week, however, when a federal appeals court decisively rejected Boies's argument that Napster is an innocent bit of software enjoyed by pure-hearted music lovers, Boies is on an extremely rare losing streak -- precisely at the moment he's more famous and revered than ever.

Boies retains the abiding affection of even his losing clients. "David Boies is the real thing," Al Gore says. "He masters the most complex subjects at lightning speed and then communicates the essential points in completely clear and totally accessible language. He's a mighty good friend to have on top of all that."

Boies's best friend, lawyer James Fox Miller, maintains that Boies is untroubled by second thoughts about Florida. "He doesn't dwell on anything," Jimmy Miller says. "And in a losing situation, the guy showed the world that he's the standard. His client lost. David didn't lose. He won. Big-time."

A month away from his 60th birthday, Boies enjoys fame, personal wealth, and invaluable professional independence. Yet spend time talking with Boies about the Florida mess and it's clear that he's nagged by an uneasy feeling: His inflated celebrity came from a case he lost. And Boies can barely restrain his anger at the United States Supreme Court.


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