Despite her detractors, she has made the most of righteous indignation in the wake of the Casey Anthony verdict

By Melissa Maerz
Updated July 15, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

Love her or hate her, Nancy Grace is having a moment. Not long after Casey Anthony was acquitted of first-degree murder in the death of her daughter, Caylee, Grace’s famous response — ”The devil is dancing” — started popping up on T-shirts in New York City. Her condemnation of the verdict brought almost 3 million viewers to HLN, the largest audience in the network’s 29-year history.

Certainly, Grace’s outrage resonated with many Americans. But some worry that by appointing herself a one-woman judge and jury, she’s giving fans a distorted view of the justice system. ”Grace is an embarrassment to law and journalism,” says Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University. ”She’s a practitioner of bottom-feeding entertainment.”

Grace declined to comment for this story, but supporters say she’s just fighting for Caylee’s rights. ”I know many people consider her coverage over-the-top,” says Marc Klaas, father of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped and killed in 1993. ”But she’s done more for victims than anybody out there today.”

Whether she’s an activist or simply a ratings chaser, it’s hard to deny that Grace helped turn Anthony into a star. ”In this reality TV era, Nancy Grace created this character — Tot Mom — and made her a celebrity,” says Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute for journalism and democracy. And as Grace should know by now, convicting a celebrity is no easy feat.