The 80-year-old lawyer has a reputation for taking down America's great and good. Now he's intent on forcing the Queen's favourite son to answer Virginia Giuffre's accusations of sexual abuse.
David Boies is tall and rangy and in 50 years he has built a reputation as a masterful litigator who destroys opponents on the witness stand. When he rose to question a former commander of American forces in Vietnam, during a libel trial, reporters in the gallery were said to have hummed the theme from Jaws. They weren't humming for the general.
His humiliating cross-examination of Bill Gates almost led to the dissolution of Microsoft; a few years later, a pioneering case he fought and won in California helped pave the way for marriage equality in America. In the commercial world, he became known as a lawyer who could save your company: nine times he has secured settlements of more than US$1 billion. More recently he has been muddied by controversies, related to his work for Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie mogul, and for Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the blood-testing start-up Theranos, who is now on trial for fraud. Boies was accused of threatening people and of adopting underhand tactics.
He disputes this, though it only burnished his reputation for ruthlessness in a fight.
This is the 80-year-old lawyer who is leading the case against Prince Andrew.
"I really don't view this as taking on the royal family," he tells me.
We're at the US Open, in brilliant sunshine, perched above one of the outer courts at Flushing Meadows. It is three days before the first pre-trial hearing in the case of Virginia L Giuffre v Prince Andrew, Duke of York.
Boies filed this lawsuit in New York last month, accusing the duke of sexually abusing Giuffre on three occasions, including once at his friend Jeffrey Epstein's mansion in Manhattan, when she was 17 and not yet an adult under New York law. The duke sexually abused Giuffre "when she was a frightened, vulnerable child with no one there to protect her", the suit said. "It is long past the time for him to be held to account."
The duke denies the allegations.
"I view this as taking on one particular person who engaged in conduct that I am sure the royal family privately disapproves of, as much as anybody else," Boies says. "Now when it's a member of your family it's always hard, I know. I sympathise very much with the Queen, in the same sense that I sympathise with any mother whose child ends up in the kind of trouble Prince Andrew's had."
Andrew is meant to be her favourite, I say.
He nods. "Makes it harder," he says, his eyes trained on the tennis players beneath us.
You might wonder what we're doing at the tennis. Boies' own clients probably wonder this too, occasionally. This is a man who can bill US$1,950 an hour. But he's also a massive tennis fan. He's nearly always here during the tournament, even if he has a major case coming up. There's always a worry that one of his clients, watching the tennis on television, will spot him in the crowd and ask, "Why aren't you working on my case?" he says.
In 1984, readying himself for a landmark trial, he did his reading at the Open.
"I had a big binder full of files that I read between points," he says.
It is quite well established that Boies can do several things at once. An interviewer questioning him at his mansion in Westchester, in upstate New York, reported that Boies spoke while simultaneously listening to his colleagues on speakerphone, pausing occasionally to deliver legal advice.
The first time I speak to him about the Giuffre case, he's aboard his yacht. Now here we are at the US Open. He's wearing a white baseball cap bearing the initials of the firm he founded, Boies Schiller Flexner. I tell him I'll leave the big questions of life and death until we are sitting down somewhere and he nods. "Wait till we've had a drink," he says.
As we watch the game, we talk in low voices. He was on the phone on the way here, he murmurs, supervising the filing of a report to the judge on efforts to serve the duke with the lawsuit and a summons. "The popular image of chasing Andrew down horse paths to throw the papers at him is a little bit of a misconception," he says. But his firm did dispatch a corporate investigator who pitched up with the papers at the Royal Lodge in Windsor. The security team had been instructed "not to allow anyone onto the property" to serve court papers, the investigator said in an affidavit. Though eventually they gave him a number for Gary Bloxsome, who was said to be the duke's solicitor, so he could call and leave a message.
Bloxsome wrote to a senior judge in London, complaining about this and advancing an argument as to why the duke might be shielded from any liability in the case, while at the same time maintaining that he was not actually representing the duke.
"It's too clever by half," Boies says. "This idea that everyone says, 'I'm his lawyer, here's some arguments, but I'm not his lawyer in this case, you understand.'"
I ask if he thinks Andrew's lawyers will show up at the first hearing.
"If you had asked me two weeks ago, I would have said they would be there, but the way they have been dealing with this makes me think they won't be," he says. "It's almost never a good idea not to show up. That's one thing that lawsuits and tennis have in common. It's easier to win a game if you're there returning the ball."
Someone did turn up to act for the duke. Andrew B Brettler, a Hollywood lawyer who has previously represented Armie Hammer, attended the hearing and said he had "significant concerns" about the lawsuit.
A few days later, London's Judicial Office announced that "lawyers for Prince Andrew have indicated that they may seek to challenge the decision of the High Court to recognise the validity" of Boies' summons.
The duke, Boies says, has been acting like an ostrich and putting his head in the sand. "He really can't hide from this."
On the court beneath us, the game ends and we head through the crowds with Boies' publicity chieftain, Dawn Schneider, to a cavernous restaurant in the side of the Arthur Ashe Stadium. He orders a vodka tonic and a filet mignon, cooked medium. "But I like it very, very charred on the outside," he tells the waiter.
Boies grew up in a farming town in Illinois, the oldest of five kids. At school he struggled to read. "I think I displayed aspects that indicated that I wasn't stupid," he says. "I didn't read at all until the third grade, but I could listen. I could reason. I actually did pretty well in school, just by listening to what people said."
Decades later, when one of his children was struggling to read, a clinician insisted on testing Boies too and found that he was dyslexic. The writer Malcolm Gladwell uses Boies' legal career in his book David and Goliath to argue that in some cases dyslexia can prime a child for success, even in a profession that involves mountains of reading. Boies was forced to develop a phenomenal memory, to listen intently to what people were saying and to think on his feet.
Boies told Gladwell that "learning by listening and asking questions means that I need to simplify issues to their basics and that is very powerful, because in trial cases [with] judges and jurors, neither of them have the ability to become an expert in a subject".
After school, Boies had no desire to go to university. "I didn't like reading," he says. "And I liked playing cards. I liked going to the beach. So I got a job on a construction crew that paid good money, and played bridge at night, went to the beach when I could… And if it hadn't been for my first wife, I might still be doing that."
He had married his high-school sweetheart. "For the first year or so she was just like she was before we got married," he says. "Totally reckless, carefree." Then they had kids. "Her whole attitude changed and she wrote away and got college applications for me."
From a small college in California, he earned a scholarship to the law school at Northwestern University. "It was like a job. I needed to get good grades because I needed to keep my scholarship," he says. At law school he became hooked. "I fell in love with the law, and with the rule of law," he says.
He also fell for the wife of one of his professors and began having an affair. "When it became clear that our relationship was inconsistent with their marriage, the dean suggested that she and I might want to go to another school," he says.
It's a rather lawyerly way of putting it; a brief phrase containing a lot of drama. The dean was apparently very keen that they both leave the campus. "He graciously said, 'I can offer you a place in any law school that you want,'" Boies says. Though he adds that as he was top of his class, and she was third in hers, this was not as awkward as it might have been.
"She went to Columbia and I went to Yale."
While at Yale he spent a summer in the south, doing volunteer civil rights work, and after he was hired by Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a famous old New York law firm, he was allowed to head down to Mississippi for two months to do pro bono work for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights. It was not as dangerous as it had been in the early Sixties, but he would still call the FBI before setting out, telling them he would ring again when he arrived and "if I don't call you something's happened".
For much of his career, though, he has fought on behalf of corporations. He represented CBS in a squabble with other networks over press access at the White House and when CBS was sued for defamation by General William Westmoreland, for reporting that he had lied about enemy troop numbers and about America's prospects in the Vietnam War, the company called for Boies again.
"It was the most difficult cross-examination that I've ever had," he says. "Westmoreland was a true patriot. He had dedicated his entire life to serving the army." Plus "he looked like a senior commanding officer from Central Casting. He was 6ft or more, ramrod straight, erect. When I cross-examined him there was a real danger that I would come off as disrespectful." On the other hand, "I had to convince the jury that this patriot, who looked like an honest man, was actually a liar."
He trod carefully on the first day, bringing up things the general had said. Eventually, after getting Westmoreland to insist that he had not told his superiors that "there was light at the end of the tunnel", Boies produced a cable from the general to his superior saying exactly that.
Westmoreland dropped the suit. Boies became a star. At Cravath, with its rather conservative culture, he seems to have been seen as too flash. I'd read that he tried to bring in Donald Trump as a client.
No, Boies says. But his eldest son worked for Trump. "In fact, when Trump announced that he was running for president, when nobody gave him a chance, my son said, 'Trump is going to be elected,'" Boies says.
Boies gave his son 10-1 odds. "I thought the chances were 100-1."
Schneider interjects. She says Boies' son has since retired.
With his Trump winnings, I ask. How much did he win?
"I can't [say] because it's too much," he replies. "It would be too embarrassing to both of us, honestly. But I will say that it is more than I have ever lost in a trip to Las Vegas."
Well, how much has he lost in Las Vegas?
Boies nods and waves the cube of steak that is lodged on his fork.
"Good reporter's question."
What does he play?
"Poker," he says. "And I like playing bridge and hearts for money, and that's very competitive. I also like playing dice in a casino. That is not competitive. That is pure luck, and the house has an edge."
He leans in, chewing, his next steak cube aloft, his pale blue eyes glinting.
"Now, if you play it right, the house's edge is tiny, a quarter of one per cent. Tiny. It's almost equal money, but not quite."
What's the most he's won, then?
"I don't know," he says. "I have won enough and lost enough so that it's embarrassing to talk about."
He sounds like a man who can't help himself, if there's a risk to be taken or a contest to be had. He recalls a trip to Virginia in the late Seventies, when he was working for Senator Ted Kennedy. Boies brought two of his children, plus a lady he had met in DC named Mary McInnis, who was then a White House lawyer and who is now his third wife. Kennedy brought his son Patrick. There was a soccer game, Kennedy and Boies against the children. "We beat them," Boies says. "We used our weight in ways that they felt were inappropriate… Which was the only way we could survive, because they were so much faster than we were."
He sometimes talks of cross-examinations in the same way: as contests. He faced Bill Gates in the late Nineties, when the Justice Department hired him to lead their lawsuit against Microsoft, accusing the company of rigging its operating system to make it harder for competitors who wanted to provide web-browsing services.
Gates seemed "a powerful enemy" and potentially "a very dangerous witness", he says. "I met with him before we sued and he was a brilliant advocate for his position, articulate, organised. And when I took his deposition that's what I thought I would be facing." But, "He just tried to play word games, essentially, and you can't get away with that," he says. "He just gave me a lot of opportunities."
Tapes of the deposition were played, to devastating effect, at the trial. They were later made public. Gates complained that Boies was "out to destroy Microsoft" and if so he almost managed it. The court ordered that Microsoft be broken up into separate companies, though this did not happen – the company was kept intact by an appeals court and the arrival of George W Bush's administration.
Boies had the reputation, by now, of a living, breathing Atticus Finch. He represented Al Gore in Florida and then before the Supreme Court in the bitter aftermath of the disputed 2000 election. It was 32 days, working "night and day", he says, as we finish lunch. "It was a rollercoaster. You thought you won, you thought you lost, then you won, then you lost." Florida's Supreme Court upheld the recount, then the Supreme Court stopped it in what Boies regards as "one of the four or five worst decisions the Supreme Court made".
The men's semi-final is starting now. Boies has seats behind the umpire's chair. Boies leans towards me, talking into my ear about his tactics in the fight to achieve marriage equality, as the yellow ball races past, level with our noses. We're in the section where your head turns, as you follow it, and I worry that I will headbutt him.
I ask about Weinstein. "During the times I was representing him, he had a line outside his office of people who wanted to work with him and, um, these people now want to pretend they got amnesia about it," he says. "There were certainly allegations, and probably more than allegations, that Weinstein had a variety of consensual affairs with actresses and others."
He became aware of three or four settlements Weinstein had reached with women, although he wasn't involved in them, he says. Before investigative stories appeared in The New York Times and The New Yorker in October, 2017, "I don't think anybody was aware of credible allegations that there had been forcible sexual abuse."
The New Yorker then revealed that Boies, acting for Weinstein, had signed a contract with an Israeli company called Black Cube, months earlier, directing its corporate intelligence operatives to uncover information that would halt the publication of negative stories about him in a New York newspaper.
Boies says he ended up signing the contract because there had been a dispute between Weinstein and Black Cube that he had to help resolve. He then had to draw up a new one.
"The contract I signed was simply to investigate charges that were being made by a woman that Weinstein emphatically denied," Boies says. "Our first job was to try to find out what she was saying. There is a certain hypocrisy about hiring private detectives… The New York Times hires private detectives in their defamation lawsuits."
Boies was well placed to know this because it so happened that he was also representing The New York Times. He was promptly fired. "They were very cross," he says. But he thinks they took the view "that only they should be able to hire private investigators… [But] if you are a lawyer representing a client, it's malpractice not to find out what the facts are and to try to find out the best evidence that can support your client."
As for Elizabeth Holmes and her pin-prick blood-testing start-up, he found her very convincing, although, "It was not so much her as the people around her," he says. "You had the chairman of the Stanford chemical engineering department… top doctors and clinicians and academics." They all seemed convinced too. After an investigative piece in The Wall Street Journal suggested that her technology wasn't all that it was cracked up to be, Boies called for it to be independently tested. "There were several times when I was promised it was being done," although it kept being delayed, he says. It has been pointed out that during this period, and before Boies cut his ties with her, Holmes was one of the guests at his 75th birthday party in Las Vegas. She even gave a toast.
"I had a lot of clients that were there," he says. "A lot of people gave toasts." News anchor Tom Brokaw did one; Sir Howard Stringer, chairman of Sony, did one too.
Some people have suggested that Boies' work for Virginia Giuffre is part of an effort to restore his reputation, though, in fairness, he took her on in 2014. She had lawyers already but, "I think they realised she was going to come in for a lot of attacks," he says. "She would really need a firm with a lot of resources."
Giuffre accused Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein of trafficking her to Prince Andrew. When Maxwell denied the claims, and called Giuffre a liar, they sued for defamation. "Ultimately we had a very successful recovery against Ms Maxwell, financially," he says. "Even more important, I think, in the larger scheme of things, we built an evidentiary record of the sex trafficking that, while it was sealed, it was something that was available to be unsealed by the government or… by the press."
Eventually, Maxwell's depositions in that case would be used against her as part of the criminal prosecution that now has her languishing in a Brooklyn jail, awaiting trial in November – a fact that must give Prince Andrew pause when he contemplates having to be deposed himself.
Boies says this could probably be done in London; tapes of it could then be used as evidence in court, if it comes to that. Or the duke could try to settle the suit.
In the week after the US Open wraps up, his chances of avoiding it entirely look slimmer by the day. After the first hearing when Brettler, the duke's lawyer, argued that the papers had not been properly served, Boies fires back with a memorandum, saying the process of serving a defendant is not supposed to be "a game of hide and seek behind palace walls". Lewis Kaplan, the judge in New York, then orders that the lawsuit can simply be sent to Brettler, the duke's lawyer.
The duke's lawyers also say that Giuffre may have signed away her right to sue the Prince in a 2009 settlement with Epstein, which they are seeking to have unsealed.
"It's irrelevant," Boies says, at the tennis. "It had to do with Epstein and certain people he did certain things with in Florida. Because it's confidential I can't really go into the terms of it, but… it doesn't protect Prince Andrew."
I ask Boies what he made of the duke's infamous interview on Newsnight.
"It was inexplicable to me why his advisers would permit him to do it," he says. "The interview simply drew more attention to him and more attention to the fact that he had no credible explanation. In addition, it put on display a level of arrogance and lack of remorse that was the opposite of what I would at least think he should have been conveying."
I imagine Boies watching it and rubbing his hands. "Oh yes, obviously," he says. "No question about that."
Boies felt that it was "probably the friendliest interview that he could have expected. I think other interviewers might have been considerably harsher with him."
How will you do it, I ask.
"Generally, what is the most effective is to just patiently go through what the facts are," he replies, and it sounds very reasonable, and also like a threat.