Tag Archives: Anatomy of a Trial

Simpson might not be the only one on TV on Thursday

Someone I met recently at a neighborhood party asked me if I was going to be on any media programs in connection with Simpson’s parole hearing on Thursday.

Not only had no one contacted me about such a possibility, I hadn’t thought about reaching out to anyone in the media. I hadn’t even arranged my schedule so I could watch it (ESPN is reportedly going to televise it, and other networks might follow suit).

That changed this evening. The news director of a TV station in a city nearly 200 miles away called and invited me to participate in a segment on Thursday to discuss the trial (the 1995 murder trial in which he was acquitted, not the 2008 robbery/kidnap trial that resulted in conviction and Simpson’s imprisonment) and my book.

The caller was gracious and offered to pay travel expenses. I appreciated that, but declined. It’s a matter of time, not the gas to get there. As an alternative, we’re going to talk tomorrow to arrange a FaceTime session during the day on Thursday.

It should be interesting — or at least I sure hope it will be.

 

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Did this Reviewer Get it Wrong?

Here’s a review of Anatomy of a Trial that didn’t make it onto my website @anatomyofatrial.com. It appears to be one of the first published and is so old it’s no longer in the California Lawyer archives. Consequently, I can’t provide a link to it.

When I came across it the other day and read through it, the review’s take on a couple of aspects caught me by surprise. One was, “As [Hayslett] tells it, the bogeyman behind this tale was presiding Judge Lance Ito.”

Was that really the way I told it?” I wondered. For sure, I didn’t intend to. While not being his apologist, neither did I consider him a bogeyman. True, he made mistakes, which he conceded, but he, for the most part, was victimized. I would love for followers of this blog who’ve read Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss to weigh in. What’s your take

Book Reviews
Anatomy of a Trial
Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson
By Jerianne Hayslett University of Missouri Press, 252 pages, $29.95, hardcover

Reviewed by Barbara Kate Repa

Do not read this book if what draws you to all things related to O. J. Simpson’s first criminal trial is the usual intrigues: the fallen football hero, testimony from the bumbling and beautiful, prosecutor Marcia Clark’s ever-changing hairstyle. For example, Kato Kaelin, Simpson houseguest-turned-hostile-witness, gets only a passing mention. Ditto the low-speed Bronco chase, that too-small bloody glove, even O. J. himself.

Instead, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson begins with the conclusion that Simpson was a train wreck of a case, from jury selection through to its lasting legacy. And the author, Jerrianne Hayslett, attempts to explain why from her vantage point as a media liaison for the Los Angeles Superior Court.

As she tells it, the bogeyman behind this tale was presiding Judge Lance Ito: He was too compartmentalized, too informal, too friendly, too human, and too cautious to do his job right. By the author’s count, Ito allowed media issues to take up a third of his time during the trial, although she disputes the common claim that the lure of fame caused Ito to undermine his sense of judicial propriety.

Hayslett also points an accusing finger at the media. Throughout the trial, she reports, journalists jockeyed for space in the courtroom, angering the deputies; they talked among themselves, driving distracted jurors to write notes of complaint about their conduct. And she describes her own shock the day then–NBC Today Show host Katie Couric appeared in Ito’s chambers, chummily munching candy from the jar on his desk while begging for the promise of an interview.

Now here’s the puzzling thing: As the court’s media liaison, Hayslett was, by her own description, responsible for “handling press issues and logistics.” It would seem that a person in that post would have taken it upon herself to say a few things, such as: “Sit where you belong” and “Be quiet” and “Hey, Katie, you really should have phoned first.” But the author remains oddly disassociated, at one point even bemoaning that the trial “launched a cottage industry of books about the trial, the defendant, the crimes, the victims, and the jurors.” Present book excluded?

Finally, Hayslett blames television, which, she laments, “could have informed and educated, could have brought people unable to physically attend the trial into the courtroom,” but instead “used the trial for entertainment and unabashed commercial promotion.”

Well, it was entertainment. The nine-month trial, misbranded by many as the longest in California’s history, probably only felt that way—with 150 witnesses testifying, countless hearings to hash out evidentiary issues, and timeouts to deal with jurors’ bouts with the flu, infighting, and brewing book deals.

Still, the trial never ceased to rivet. On the October 1995 morning the not-guilty verdicts in the Simpson case were delivered, AC Nielson confirmed that virtually every TV in the Los Angeles area, and 91 percent nationwide, was tuned to hear and see them.

Anatomy of a Trial plumbs that nostalgia. Hayslett draws from reflections recorded in her diary throughout the trial, with the most momentous moments marked by haikus, such as this one:

Press reports are wrong.

Ito feels numbed and disturbed,

What is the outcome?

Poetry attempts aside, though, the book is well written, with nice twists of phrases and observations uniquely gleaned from watching the trial from the inside out. And there’s fun in these pages. The author dishes—mostly about the divalike behavior and short skirts of the female reporters and lawyers, although she also gets catty about comic Jackie Mason, hired as a BBC commentator for the trial, noting his “almost wrinkle-free kind of skin” and too-tight hair weave.

Occasionally, Hayslett’s own roots get the best of her. For example, she spends too much time describing the cloisters of courtroom administration and which reporter circumvented what unwritten chain of command. It’s not that interesting—unless, perhaps, you’re the person whose command was jumped. And the book has a scattered and preachy conclusion about courts and media relations and the public’s right to know. Or something.

Most profoundly, readers will be reminded what a difference a decade or so makes. Death has taken a chunk out of Simpson’s defense Dream Team, with Johnnie Cochran and Robert Kardashian now gone. Lance Ito, once hailed as a judicial rising star, now sits in an L.A. criminal courtroom with no nameplate on the door; his name lives on as a frequent crossword puzzle clue, but he shuns the limelight. And Simpson sits locked up in Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada for 9 to 33 years for those strange and less-gripping crimes involving his old football trophies.

Nevertheless, the mystique of the Simpson case endures, blamed for everything on the First Amendment parade of horribles—including sealed records, prior restraints, closed proceedings, and gag orders on lawyers, litigants, and witnesses. And, of course, for the relative merits of allowing cameras in the courtroom. Approved in California since 1981, cameras in court became suspect after Simpson—singled out, according to Hayslett, as “the biggest contributor to the derailment of that trial and the negative public perception of it and its participants.”

The day the Simpson verdicts were delivered, then-Governor Pete Wilson wrote a letter to then–Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas, urging a statewide ban of electronic media coverage in criminal trials. In response, the California Judicial Council investigated and held a series of public hearings, ultimately deciding to give judges complete discretion on the issue.

The pundits couldn’t stop themselves from drawing parallels with the Simpson case a couple years ago when Judge Larry Paul Fidler opted to allow cameras in court during Phil Spector’s first trial for murder. But Spector, an unphotogenic record producer best known for the Wall of Sound production technique he popularized in the 1960s, was no Simpson—on a number of levels. And his trial was no Simpson.

Barbara Kate Repa, a contributing writer to California Lawyer, watched every televised moment of The People vs. Orenthal James Simpson.

Read Anatomy of a Trial and decide for yourself.

Summer sale of $7.99. Shipping is free with Amazon Prime. A signed copy directly from me is $10, shipping included.

“Anatomy of a Trial” a Bargain $10.99!

20 more copies of my book, “Anatomy of a Trial, Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson”, are now available on Amazon for the bargain price of $10.99. Read it and find out what American Crime Story’s “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” got wrong. https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0826218229/ref=dp_olp_new?ie=UTF8&condition=new

Toobin’s Simpson Account No Exemplar of Accuracy

Terry Gross is interviewing Jeffrey Toobin on her “Fresh Air” program today about his new book American Heiress, which is about Hearst empire heiress Patty Hearst. Toobin says he was 13 when Patty Hearst was kidnapped at age 19 and a UC Berkeley sophomore by a violent rogue group self-named the Symbionese Liberation Army.

It is supremely irritating to hear Gross identify Toobin as author of the “definitive book about the O.J. Simpson trial.” That book is so filled with errors and character assassination, some based on hearsay which I point out in Anatomy of a Trial, I can only hope that Toobin did a more accurate job with his new tome.

Beyond Larry King’s Freudian Slip

The anecdote in the opening paragraph of The Atlantic’s June 16, 2016, O.J.: Made in America Is Vital Storytelling review…

Buried in the fourth part of O.J.: Made in America, ESPN Films’s masterful eight-hour documentary about the O.J. Simpson murder case, is a telling little Freudian slip from the then-CNN host Larry King, whose network had turned news coverage of the trial into an unprecedented 24/7 marathon. He had just met with Lance Ito, the presiding judge in the trial, and King was asked by a news crew if he wanted Ito to appear on Larry King Live. “Sure, we’d love to have him after the show is over. After the trial is over,” he said, catching himself. “It is like a show.”

…might have happened.  I don’t know. But I do know it doesn’t tell the whole story. Whoever the news crew was apparently didn’t know that King had asked for Ito to be on his show before King met him during the trial. The saga of how that meeting came about is documented on pages 65-67 of my book Anatomy of a Trial, for which I’m pretty much to blame.

Learning that King planned to be in L.A. and wanted to attend the trial, I suggested to Ito that he might meet with him to thank him. King’s was the only news broadcast or talk show that granted Ito’s request to delay by one day interviewing Faye Resnick about her rush-to-print tell-all “diary”. King also read the entire statement from Ito on a show he had asked the judge to appear on with members of the media who were unhappy about his courtroom rules and restrictions.

The rest of The Atlantic review about the ESPN documentary seemed OK to me, but then I’ve only gotten through Part 3, so far. So this blog post is based on second-hand information, since I haven’t watched Part 4, which contains the scene described in The Atlantic review’s opening ‘graph.

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.