Category Archives: Interviews

Few Surprises in ESPN Simpson Documentary

I’m more interested in watching the ESPN-produced documentary, “O.J.: Made in America”, which debuted last night, than I was the FX melodrama series aired earlier this year, primarily because it is a documentary.

Granted, documentaries can be skewed to favor a point of view or even “prove” something that isn’t, but at least documentaries are composed of actual footage and interviews with real people.

While the first part, carried on ABC last night, contained few surprises for me, I was surprised at what Dave Nemetz, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, in “‘O.J.: Made in America’: 8 Things We Learned From Part 1“, said he learned that he didn’t know.

The one thing I didn’t know about was Simpson’s father’s sexual orientation. In fact, I don’t ever recall any mention of his father.

But the rest? That Simpson was a living legend in L.A., that he didn’t want to get political and could talk himself out of trouble, was almost a bust in the NFL, his breakthrough role in TV ads, his mediocre acting ability–at least, in his roles as an actor–and his early encounters Nicole Brown was pretty much common knowledge to those who (1) are old enough to remember, (2) lived in L.A. and (3) paid attention to sports. Maybe Nemetz benefited from none of that.

One thing I did learn that Nemitz didn’t mention was how far back former LAPD officer Ron Shipp and Simpson’s relationship goes. Back to Shipp’s school years. I had thought it was much more recent–dating from when Simpson lived in his house in Brentwood.

While my knowledge of last night’s Part I was based on being old enough and exposed to sports enough and living in L.A., it will be interesting to see what I learn from Part II, which airs Tuesday night, as it focuses on my direct, first-hand knowledge of Simpson’s 1994-95 murder trial and many of the issues that swirled around that.

Stay tuned.

 

 

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/oj-made-america-part-1-901650

Where Have You Been, Gil Garcetti?

Former L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti has been encased in an impenetrable 20-plus year bubble or has dementia.

Simpson’s lawyers telling him to stop taking his arthritis medicine so his knuckles would swell, making the gloves difficult to get on was widely discussed, at least by members of the media, for months after the trial.

Yet the news is replete with sensational headlines these days about Garcetti not knowing about such a thing until he saw the FX Crime Story melodrama and about these startling “new details” in the case as the “news” media sinks further and further into grabbing readers and viewers at any cost muck.

 

DA Criticizes Clark, But Gave Her Bonus

Gil Garcetti, who served as Los Angeles County District Attorney from 1992-2000 and oversaw the charging and prosecution of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, said in an interview last week that he didn’t pick Marcia Clark to prosecute Simpson and, in fact, didn’t even want her to do so.

Clark, Garcetti said, made mistakes, ignored the prosecution’s jury consultant’s advice and that the case suffered from being tried downtown instead of in Santa Monica which was the jurisdiction where the murders were committed.

I found Garcetti’s assertions surprising and, frankly, rather specious.

First, Garcetti was THE District Attorney. He was the boss, the head of the District Attorney’s Office. So if he didn’t pick Marcia Clark to prosecute Simpson, who did? If he didn’t want her, why didn’t he tell her no, if she said she wanted the job?

Second, if she made mistakes, didn’t Garcetti bear at least some responsibility? He was head of the office. The trial was nearly 10 months long. If he saw his deputy make mistakes or didn’t agree with her strategy in this most visible trial in the world and whose outcome would reflect on him and his office, and could possibly affect his re-election in 1996, shouldn’t he have spoken to her, stopped her or possibly replaced her?

Third, is Garcetti blaming Marcia Clark for the case being tried downtown instead of Santa Monica? Garcetti’s the one who filed the charges downtown and did so in June of 1994. There was wide speculation, both in the media and privately, that in doing so the D.A. had made a big mistake.

I don’t know why Clark didn’t listen to her jury consultant, but it was obvious to me that she didn’t. What I don’t understand is why Garcetti is now criticizing her for that. Whether or not he was micromanaging the trial, which was alleged often during those nearly 10 months, surely he had an eye on things enough to realize that she wasn’t using the expertise of the consultant his office had hired and was paying for (with taxpayer money). Did he have such a complete hands-off policy that he provided no oversight or direction.

And if Clark did do such a lousy job, why did he give her a nearly $15,000 bonus right after the case was over — a move that angered a large number of Clark’s fellow deputy district attorneys.

Maybe he intended the bonus to be an incentive to do better, given how poorly she performed.

His treatment of a deputy D.A. who had a solid record of wins and successfully prosecuted Lyle and Erik Menendez in the retrial in which they were charged with murdering their parents (and are now serving life sentences), seems to have been proof that Garcetti didn’t reward great performance. Instead of giving Menendez prosecutor David Conn a bonus, Garcetti demoted him from the downtown major crimes unit to an outlying office in Norwalk.

Or did someone else, not the man who was supposed to be in charge of the entire Los Angeles County district attorney operation, give or approve giving Clark a bonus and exile one of his best prosecutors of heinous criminals (Menendez brothers, cocaine dealing TV star Dan Haggerty, serial killer Bill Bradford and Cotton Club murderers) to the suburban city of Norwalk?

I really do find Garcetti’s criticism of Clark wanting.

Choi Gets Ito

Kenneth Choi as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito in The People vs. O.J. Simpson miniseries is totally unbelievable to me, unless I close my eyes.

Except for the black hair, rimless glasses and facial hair, Choi looks no more like Ito than I, a Caucasian, brown-haired woman, do.

But Choi does capture Ito’s voice. He also either researched something other than the popular media-created image of Ito — maybe he read my book! — or managed to otherwise understand the no-win situation that crashed down on Ito well enough to develop a fairly accurate sense of what the judge was up against in the Simpson trial.

I learned that from a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter.

“According to the actor, though Ito has received a lot of criticism for the O.J. Simpson case, he has tried to stay impartial. ‘I can’t criticize or be judgmental of the person I’m playing,’ he said. ‘I have to do my best to understand him and what he does. I personally think he had the weight of the world on his shoulders as this sort of ringmaster in this circus played out on such a huge scale.’

“Though Choi admitted that the pressure on Ito ‘absolutely’ affected some of his decisions, he also pointed out that Ito was known to be a ‘very good, very smart, very fair’ judge.

“Asked whether or not he thinks that Ito’s decision about the Mark Fuhrman tapes affected the verdict, Choi answered, ‘I don’t know that it affected the outcome.’

“‘The jury heard the two snippets from the tapes, and I think that was enough,’ he explained. ‘The damage was done.'”

I do know this: Choi did not come to his conclusions by talking to Ito.

 

What They and I Didn’t Know

In a recent Law Newz website post, O.J. Simpson Prosecutor Says Non-Black Writers for New Series Clearly Don’t Understand Race, former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney makes a case for what I didn’t understand during that trial more that 20 years ago, but have a better understanding of now. Here’s an observation about the FX miniseries:

“I think you have a production done, I’ll say this, basically non-black writers, non-black producers then you want to take this iconic trial with these black lawyers and talk about race, I don’t see how you talk about race without including the people that are most affected by it.”

I wouldn’t have appreciated or even understood back in 1995 what Christopher Darden meant had I heard it back then.

I did hear someone back then say something similar to that and, while I went to bat for him, I didn’t really understand. Photojournalist Haywood Galbreath, who was the only photographer who was in the courtroom taking pictures every day of the trial. I describe my encounter with him in Anatomy of a Trial:

“He represented some two-hundred black-owned newspapers across the country, he said, who were fed up with the distortions of the white media. Exhibit A, a Time magazine cover with Simpson’s mug shot which had been altered, giving him a darker, more sinister look.”

With more life experience, I have a much better idea of what Galbreath was saying and totally agree with Darden’s observation about the making of FX’s “People vs. O.J. Simpson.”

The Wrong and the Right of OJS Episode 4

Most of what FX got wrong in the fourth installment of its People vs. O.J. Simpson miniseries was either minutia most people wouldn’t care about or reinforced misperceptions they already have, or even worse, created misperceptions that those who weren’t born then or were too young to have known about it.

First is the trial judge, Lance Ito’s glee or even giddiness upon learning that the Simpson case had been assigned to him. Just a few months before the murders Simpson would be accused of committing even happened, Ito spoke at a conference I also participated in, in which he said any judge who wanted a high-profile trial should have his head examined. Ito had past experience with trials like that and knew they created headaches no one would want. I had also had some experience in that arena with both the Rodney King-beating and the Menendez brothers-parricide trials.

Ito was much more astounded and flummoxed by the crazy media coverage than “star-struck.” He was a highly regarded jurist and probably one of the smartest individuals I’ve known. His flaw, so far as I’m concerned was his naiveté. He neither welcomed nor craved the media attention.

Of all the TV talk shows that Faye Resnick appeared on in connection with her rushed-to-print book, it was surprising that the miniseries producers chose Larry King Live for its production. When Ito learned that the book was to be released before the jury was seated, he instructed me to contact all the popular TV talk shows and ask to delay booking Resnick until he could sequester the jury. Larry King is the only talk show host who agreed to do so.

Otherwise, the niggling things that bothered me was the lousy casting of Ito’s bailiff, Guy Magnera. I look more like Magnera than the guy that played him in this show.

The preliminary hearing judge in the case was Kathleen Kennedy-Powell, an attractive middle-aged woman, not the old white guy who was cast in that role.

One would have thought that with all the attractive, leggy blonde actresses to chose from the show’s casting director would have had no problem finding one who looked credibly like the defense team’s jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, instead of the gnome who got the part.

On the plus side, Joseph Siravo is a dead-ringer in both looks and passion as Fred Goldman, whose son Ronald was murdered along side Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole Brown.

I understood the focus group’s assessment of Marcia Clark. No matter what her intentions or self-image, she came across as a haughty know-it-all who consistently vamped into the courtroom late almost every morning, even though Ito complied (reluctantly) with her request to start the court day half-an-hour later than the normal time.

That brings me to the clocks. Ito’s courtroom had only one clock on the wall when he first got the case. After the attorneys, particularly Clark, didn’t seem to grasp the concept of time, he ordered three more — I was there the day they arrive and he had them installed. They didn’t look anything like the one in the miniseries, either. He also didn’t have his collection of hourglasses on the bench in those early days, either. He brought them out from his chambers, one by one, as another ‘subtle’ hint for the lawyers to be on time and to quit their delaying tactics.

 

 

Sensationalizing Kardashian Name? Really?

This says a lot:

Khloe Kardashian Reacts to The People v. O.J. Simpson: “They’re Kind of Sensationalizing the Kardashian Name In It”

”They’re kind of sensationalizing the Kardashian name in it, but I think to bring the younger audience in. I’m not upset about it, but there was some scene of the kids chanting ‘Kardashian’ when my dad was reading the potential suicide note. I even called Kim, because I was 10. I’m like, ‘Did that happen? I don’t remember any of this happening? She goes, ‘Absolutely not did that happen!'”‘

Shigata ga nai Explains a Lot

The website “Bustle” had this story, Where Is Judge Lance Ito Today? He’s Stayed Out Of Spotlight Since The Simpson Trial, today. It’s one of the more accurate stories I’ve seen about the Simpson trial and people associated with it in a long time. And it was a good story.

It pretty much reflected what I wrote eight years ago about Ito in the introduction of Anatomy of a Trial (pages 4-5):

“Interestingly, although Ito was and still is trivialized as star struck and grasping for fame, immediately after the trial he tried to return to anonymity. By contrast, the other major figures capitalized on their celebrity with book deals, speaking tours, TV shows, commentating gigs and even acting stints. Without a doubt, Ito could have joined their ranks—publishers offered deals with two-to-three million-dollar advances and eventual five-to-six million net—but didn’t. He also, until agreeing to contribute to this book, has turned down interview requests and public-speaking invitations, and declined to counter his critics.

“I prefer to remain in the tall grass,” he said a few years ago when I proposed doing a magazine profile of him. He’s done a good job of that. People generally express surprise when they learn that he’s still on the bench trying felony cases and has twice since the Simpson trial been re-elected to his Superior Court office.

“While Ito’s discipline in remaining mum and out of the spotlight might be laudable, he has not necessarily done himself or the judiciary any favors as it has left his judicial reputation publicly besmirched and allowed other judges’ disdain for him to flourish. Some in the media, such as syndicated talk show host Larry Elder, have speculated that Ito’s silence springs from embarrassment. That, however, is not the case.

“Fingers of blame for Simpson becoming the spectacle that it did have pointed in many directions, with most eventually resting on Ito. But the truth is, blame belongs to just about everyone associated with the trial, including the vast public audience that followed it.

“Ted Koppel, host of ABC’s Nightline said in an interview on a Public Broadcast Service tenth anniversary show of the verdict that although Nightline tried to minimize its coverage of the trial, it got a ten percent ratings boost every time it included coverage in a broadcast.

“In that same PBS show, Harvard law professor and member of Simpson’s legal defense team Alan Dershowitz, puzzled over the public’s obsession with the trial.

“’I could never understand that,’ he said. ‘To me it was just another murder case.’”

I then go on to list all the reasons it wasn’t just another murder trial.

Lance Ito was and still is one of my favorite judges, even though he is now retired. It distressed me that he and his actions were so blatantly misrepresented in media reports. Long after the trial as ridicule and criticism of him continued at every mention of the case or his name, I offered to find ways to counter it. He seemed interested, then would decline. I also wrote about that and how I came to understand why in Anatomy of a Trial, It’s at the end of Chapter 3 on page 34. Here it is:

“Ito was deeply affected by the criticism and the blow to his professional image. During the trial and in the months following it, he seemed grateful for my offers to rebut the most blatant of misperceptions. Yet, when I gave him drafts of letters and op-ed pieces for his review, he would tell me not to send them.

“’Just let it go,’ he would say.

“It wasn’t until I read a profile of him in a legal newspaper years later that I began to understand that aspect of his persona.

“As reported by Los Angeles Daily Journal writer, Don Ray, in his June 2005 article, Ito ‘remained silent, true to the same cultural fabric that gave his parents and grandparents emotional strength during their internment.’

“’It’s called ‘shigata ga nai,’ and it’s a philosophy of life that’s very, very typically Japanese,’ Ito is quoted as saying in the profile.

“’Shigata ga nai means it can’t be helped,’ Japanese-American pastoral counselor Cliff Ishigaki explained in the profile. ‘It’s the deepest form of resignation. It signifies a form of victimization, where life is done without their permission.”

I thought it ironic that in attempting to educate the public about how “life” was done to interned Americans of Japanese descent without their permission during World War II, he had inadvertently become a victim of that very phenomenon himself.

If anyone would like to buy my book, it’s no longer available from the publisher, University of Missouri Press, even though it’s still listed on Amazon.com as being “Temporarily out of stock.” I bought the remainder of UMP’s stock and am selling it for $10.99 directly and on an Amazon program called Fulfillment By Amazon, which, unfortunately is buried two clicks away from the main page where no one can find it unless they know how. (FYI — type the name of the book, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson in Amazon.com’s search window. Under the first listing (which is the UMP listing that says (Temporarily out of stock), click on the tiny live link HardcoverOn the page that opens, go down to “More Buying Choices” and click on “13 New from $7.00. My listing (currently) is the  first one on the page that opens. I say “currently” because on a couple of occasions, I’ve had to scroll down a bit to find it. I’m really angry that Amazon won’t list it on the main page–i.e. the first one that opens when the book title is typed into the search window and have a 1/2-inch (so far) file of printouts of email communication with Amazon — or rather people in some other country with names like Jaden and Abdul — trying to get moved to the main page. If you’d rather buy it directly from me, please let me know.

 

3 Down, 7 to Go

So much of the FX dramatization of the 1995 Simpson murder trial has been private conversations that my take on the miniseries so far is pretty much as a spectator.

Perhaps having spent most of my waking hours in the downtown area of Los Angeles as the main city and county administrative centers, a couple of scenes caught my eye.

One was the balcony Marcia Clark stood to feed her nicotine habit. My assumption is it was a balcony of the Criminal Courts building because City Hall could be seen across the street and the District Attorney’s office complex is in CCB (since renamed the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center). What jarred me was that the balcony Marcia Clark was on looked like it was about two and no more than three stories from the ground. The DA’s office complex is on the 18th floor. I can’t think of anything on the second or third floor that would have accounted for Marcia Clark being there.

On the plus side, Sarah Paulson became a more believable Marcia Clark in this episode. Not being part of the attorneys’ conversations, which made up the bulk of this episode, I focused more on the actors’ portrayals.

The more I see John Travolta in this show, the less I see Robert Shapiro. Travolta doesn’t look like Shapiro, is much larger than Shapiro, doesn’t sound like Shapiro and just isn’t the same presence as Shapiro. Or more accurately, Shapiro wasn’t the same presence that Travolta is. Travolta comes across to me as a larger-than-life character. Shapiro wasn’t.

Bruce Greenwood, except for being a bit smaller, is a dead ringer for Los Angeles Superior Court Criminal Division Supervising Judge James Bascue, not the Gil Garcetti character he was playing.

I’m still trying to figure out why David Schwimmer was cast as Robert Kardashian. Nothing about Schwimmer looks, sounds like or reminds me in any way of Kardashian. The character Schwimmer is playing looks like a lost geek who has no idea what’s going on.

And what was that ChinChin restaurant scene all about? Just as all of the promos featuring Kardashian’s ex, Kris Jenner, seemed like the maximum exploitation of what has become The Kardashians, scenes of Kardashian’s children seemed like nothing more than yet another way to capitalize on that brand.

Thinking about it later, though, perhaps it was a vehicle to showcase what the series makers’ effort to portray Kardashian as a principled person and loyal friend and not as vapid as his progeny appear to be.

The best performance so far as being the character he was portraying, in my opinion, was Sterling Brown as Christopher Darden.  My sense of Darden during the trial was that he was introverted and Marcia’s foil.

Kato Kaelin’s line, “Fame is complicated,” made me laugh. It was unbelievable to me that Kaelin could have formulated such a complicated thought. So was the sort of big personality he was imbued with. He always struck me as just quirky.

We’ll see how upcoming episodes play out. I do have to keep in mind that, like all dramatizations, fiction is sure to be mixed with fact. What bothers me about that is an unwitting public, unable to know one from the other, tends to believe that it’s all true.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Make Excuses for Him, Marcia

Media reports abound these days with accounts of what the 1995 Simpson trial participants think of the FX drama “The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Here’s and excerpt from one quoting Deputy District Attorney and lead prosecutor in the case Marcia Clark:

Marcia Clark on What Episode One of The People v. O.J. Simpson Got Right and Wrong

(Q) It was also depicted in Jeffrey Toobin’s book as if you had no choice but to work with Bill.

“That was what I was going to tell you. It’s not the writers’ fault, you know. They didn’t know. They based the script on a book that has glaring inaccuracies. Toobin got a lot wrong because he’s not behind the scenes. He’s not there. And so he has third-party sources he talks to that don’t care about getting it right, or deliberately lie.”

I made this observation in my book Anatomy of a Trial (available directly from me at the deeply discounted price of $13, which includes shipping cost — give me your email address so we can make arrangements) on pages 65-67. Hearsay wasn’t Toobin’s only problem with inaccuracy. He could get it wrong even when he was behind the scenes. That is covered in my book, too, on page 64.