Tag Archives: Dominick Dunne

Sloppiness Does Miniseries Credibility Damage

Although I took exception with the FX miniseries People vs. O.J. Simpson perpetuation of the mischaracterization of Simpson trial judge, Lance Ito, the creators and cast of the drama got a lot right.

Sarah Paulson absolutely nailed it as Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown was certainly a believable Christopher Darden. and Joseph Siravo was credible as Fred Goldman. The rest of the cast, except for Kenneth Choi’s voice in his role as Ito, might as well have been playing characters in some unrelated production.

The story line and conflict, also, are fairly accurate so far as what happened in the courtroom. I don’t know about what went on in any private conversations, except those in Ito’s chambers at which I was present. What bugs me, aside from the misrepresentation of Ito, is so much that wasn’t accurate out of sheer sloppiness that was easily avoidable.

It’s unlikely that I’ll hit everything here, but I can at least offer some examples. A couple of observations I made in previous posts on this blog.

One was early on in a scene in which Marcia Clark was standing on the balcony outside the District Attorney’s office in the Criminal Courts Building. That balcony was only a few floors up, probably the third of fourth floor. The District Attorney’s Office was, and still is, on the 18th floor, one floor from the top of the building.

Another was a completely fabricated meeting Ito purportedly had in his chambers with former movie producer-turned author Dominick Dunne. In that scene Ito is depicted pulling open a desk drawer, taking out an autographed picture TV personality Arsenio Hall had sent the judge and showing it to Dunne as if Ito thought it was some terrific get or coveted souvenir.

Rather than just sloppy, that scene had to be a deliberate fantasy. That’s because the miniseries was based on a book published by CNN commentator and writer Jeffery Toobin. Rather than Dunne, it was Toobin to whom Ito showed a photo of Hall. Toobin didn’t forget about that meeting or just misremembered that it was Dunne to whom Ito showed the picture. Toobin wrote about it in his book — sort of.

Here is my account, taken from my notes taken that day and an audio journal entry recorded that evening:

“Like many of his colleagues, Toobin clambered to meet Ito. Ito said no.

‘He’s a month behind the time,’ Ito said in reply to one request in mid-September of 1994. ‘He’s too late.’[i]

But Toobin persisted.[ii]

‘Just a few minutes with the judge,’ he pleaded on another occasion. ‘Just to say hello, to introduce myself and, as a lawyer, shake the judge’s hand.’

In February Ito finally relented, but said to bring him in at the end of the lunch break so he could limit his time with him. As I escorted Toobin to Ito’s chambers, I delivered my spiel that everything, once he crossed the threshold, was off the record. As usual, all manner of files, documents, mementos and other paraphernalia cluttered Ito’s chambers. As Toobin observed the surroundings, Ito showed him what he thought was an example of how crazily things had gotten with public interest in the trial. It was a note television personality Arsenio Hall had sent him in which he compared Ito’s job to President Bill Clinton’s, saying that Clinton has the second hardest job and that Ito had the hardest.[iii] With a shake of his head, Ito said he found it strange that people, even celebrities, apparently wanting to be part of or to somehow relate personally with the trial, would send the court notes and photographs and souvenirs.

‘You would think these people would have something better to do,’ he said.[iv]

But that’s not how Toobin told it. Nearly a year after the trial, Toobin hit the talk-show circuit to promote his book.[v] In recounting his meeting with Ito, he said the judge wanted to meet him and had ‘summoned’ him for a visit in chambers. Toobin’s tale was not only unethical because he violated the off-the-record condition, he reshaped it, apparently to support his characterization of Ito as behaving like ‘just another celebrity-crazed resident of Los Angeles’ and having ‘starry eyes.’[vi] Ito’s point in showing Toobin the Arsenio Hall note was to underscore how obsessed people had become with the trial. But that obviously wasn’t Toobin’s impression or his memory of how the incident played out.”

Although scenes in the courthouse and trial courtroom appeared to be shot in the actual building and courtroom, Ito’s chambers during the trial were not. In fact, Toobin could have made sure the chambers were a close, if not exact, replication of that office, since he had been in that office. Why he didn’t is a mystery, but it was just all wrong.

Again, despite the courtroom looking like an actual Criminal Courts Building courtroom, the clock and the lack of them, were wrong. The clock in Ito’s courtroom was the basic vanilla style clock found in most schools and other public buildings of that era, similar to this: 

I say “lack of them”, because in the early days of the proceedings, Ito ordered several more clocks that looked like this and put them on the courtroom walls as a hint to habitually tardy lawyers on the case that court began at 9 a.m. When that didn’t work, he started bringing hourglasses from a collection he had in his chambers into the courtroom, which of course made headlines.

Another inaccuracy was Judge Ito banging a gavel when he called a recess. That never happened. Ito didn’t use a gavel in his courtroom. He didn’t even have a gavel on the bench.

And what was that with Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson shaving in jail. Shaving, with a safety razor. A safety razor, which gives a pretty close shave. Then he shows up in court with had to be at least a two-day stubble on his face.

The make up of the jury on verdict day was nowhere close to the real jury. The real consisted of ten women and two men. The TV show has at least four men. Racially, the real jury was nine blacks, two whites and one Hispanic. The TV jury that could be seen on camera included four whites.

Further, when the trial judge dismissed the jurors post verdict, he addressed them as ladies and gentlemen of the jury and alternates. At that point in the trial, there were no alternates. The twelve alternates that began with the twelve regular jurors had become regular jurors during the course of the trial as one-by-one, the regular jurors were all dismissed.

Trivial errors or inaccuracies that few people would know to notice or care about. But if the miniseries producers didn’t care enough to get those kind of details right, how can they have credibility about anything else?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i].  Author’s notes, September 19, 1994.

 [ii] Id., January 25, February 3, 1995.

[iii]Id, February 3, 1995.

[iv]Id, February 8, 1995.

[v].   Jeffrey Toobin, “Today,” September 10, 1996, http://www.radicalmedia.com/work/today/trans/1996/sep/960910.txt; Francis X. Archibald, “Toobin critiques O. J. Simpson trial,” The State (Columbia, SC), September 29, 1996.

[vi].   Jeffrey Toobin, The Run of His Life (New York: Random House, 1996), 229

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Scenes from Fantasyland

The setting and the conversation were private. At least, in a TV show, they were, and to my knowledge, that’s the only place either happened.

On TV, former movie producer, turned author and Vanity Fair correspondent Dominick Dunne is sitting in Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito’s chambers. Ito is telling Dunne that he is giving Dunne a coveted courtroom seat next to members of the murder victims’ families, then pulls an autographed photo of TV personality Arsenio Hall out of a desk drawer and rather giddily shows it to a rather nonplussed Dunne.

First, I was present in the courtroom (not Ito’s chambers) when the seat assignments were made, which was in January,before opening statements in the trial. A law intern and I drew names out of a bag.

Second, Arsenio Hall, or someone, did send Ito an autographed photo of Arsenio Hall. But…

  1. that was long after the trial was underway, meaning, Dunne had been sitting in his assigned courtroom seat for weeks by that time,
  2. Jeffrey Toobin, on whose book the TV miniseries currently showing on the FX channel is based, was in Ito’s chambers for a few minutes the day the picture did arrive in the mail. How that visit came about is described in Anatomy of a Trial, and in no way resembles what Jeffrey Toobin describes in his book.
  3. Far from giddy or jazzed that Hall sent him the picture, Ito expressed near disgust. He didn’t have to pull it out of a desk drawer as if he were hiding or coveting it. Shortly before I escorted Toobin into Ito’s chambers (for a meeting Toobin had been begging for for weeks — “Just to say hello, to introduce myself and, as a lawyer, shake the judge’s hand.”), Ito had shown me the photo which had arrived in the mail that day and said, “Don’t these people have a life?” The context in which he said something similar to Toobin was in response to Toobin remarking about the attention the trial had gotten. The picture of Hall was laying on a table. Ito showed it and the note Hall had sent with it to Toobin and said something to the effect that he had been getting all kinds of stuff in the mail, then added. “You would think these people would have something better to do.” (A more detailed account of Toobin’s brief visit in Ito’s chambers is on page 64 of my book.)

Did Dunne meet privately with Ito in his chambers before the trial began? I don’t know. What I do know is that I generally acted as the liaison between media types, and that included Dunne, and the judge and accompanied them if they met with him. In another chapter of my book I tell about a meeting Dunne had with Ito that did happen, in which I was present.

But telling what people actually said and did and what their intentions were would not make nearly as great of a  story as fantasies or “dramatic license”.

One Death and Potentially a 2nd One Shakes the Press Corps

I wrote two haiku on this date 20 years ago because of two events that never made onto the main stage of the trial. One was momentously tragic, the other the prelude of what could have been parent’s worst nightmare — and a less violent echo of the reason for the trial.

Robin Clark was here.

No promise of tomorrow.

Empty courtroom seat.

8/7/95

Here’s the lead in as I included in Anatomy of a Trial. The day was Friday, August 4, three days before I wrote the above haiku:

“I didn’t get to the courtroom until the mid-morning break. When court reconvened, a woman I hadn’t seen before was sitting next to me. She wore the proper badge for the seat, so I figured she had worked a deal with Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Robin Clark, who normally sat there. Strange, I thought. Clark never missed a day in court.”

It turned out, he never sat there or in any other courtroom seat again.

Neither did the woman in Robin’s courtroom seat that Friday. She was a friend of Robin’s cousin. Both she and the cousin were visiting from out of town. After court that day, Robin took the women sightseeing. All three were killed in an automobile crash in Malibu.

It hit all of the media covering the trial hard. Robin was very well liked. I also wrote in Anatomy about the moving memorial gathering members of the media held for him. Another very well liked member of the media, magazine writer/book author Dominick Dunne didn’t attend the gathering.

He was the subject of the second haiku I wrote on August 7, 1995, which was.

His son was missing

Gone for a mountain bike ride

More Dunne tragedy?

8/7/95

I picked up the story in Anatomy: 

” The answering machine in my office the following Monday was jammed with messages making sure I knew about Robin. Then Dominick Dunne called who had a crisis of his own. His son, an experienced cyclist, hadn’t returned from a weekend ride in the Arizona mountains. Dunne was frantic and planned to stay by the phone rather than come to court. He might even go to Arizona, he said. He wanted Ito to know why he wasn’t there and hoped it wouldn’t be held against him and take away his courtroom seat.

“Dunne didn’t lose his seat, but because he was still waiting for news about his son, he did miss the memorial service. ”

The “More Dunne tragedy?” reference was to the fact that his daughter, the actress Dominique Dunne, was murdered in the early 1980s, and his ex-wife was crippled with multiple sclerosis.

Dunne’s son returned from his ride several days later, unharmed and unaware of the ruckus he had caused.

20 Years Ago Yesterday and Today

Another bomb scare.

Trashed car in the parking lot.

Ito’s spy glasses.

6/19/95

Ito uses his binoculars to watch police officers tear apart a car suspected in a Criminal Courts Building bomb scare – one of many during the course of the trial.

Can Dominick leave?

Will he lose his courtroom seat?

Princess Di beckons.

6/20/95

Courtroom regular, author Dominick Dunne, worries he will lose his courtroom seat if he accepts Princess Diana’s invitation to go to London for a pre-interview meeting.

The Katz was Out of the Bag

A courtroom talker

That’s against the courtroom rules.

A Katz wife expelled.

4/25/95

Courtroom spectators routinely ignored the court order banning them from talking while court was in session.  One of two women kicked out for talking on this day was the wife of a former Los Angeles judge, Burton Katz.

Of greater interest to me was that Burton Katz was the judge who presided over the trial of the killer of actress Dominique Dunne, who was in the movie Poltergeist and whose father was author, Vanity Fair magazine correspondent and high-profile trial watcher. Dunne developed a vitriolic hatred of Katz after Katz sentenced his daughter’s killer to what Dunne thought was an outrageously light six years. That trial was the catalyst for Dunne to attend and write about high-profile trials. Dunne had a media seat at the Simpson trial, writing about it for Vanity Fair and for a book he said he was writing. I was concerned some kind of a confrontation might break out when Katz showed up at the trial. I needn’t have worried, though, as the two ignored each other.

 

Linda Deutsch: Retires from The AP to Write Memoir

Passing the torch.

Changing of the guard.

End of an era.

All of those cliches could be said about the news that Linda Deutsch is hanging it up after a 48-year career with The Associated Press. But none them fit. One reason is because no phrase, label or accolade has been created that could come close to Linda and the stupendous body of work she amassed in her nearly give decades as a court beat/legal affairs reporter at the AP. Another is that cliches are trite and Linda isn’t.

Linda’s prowess as the doyenne of celebrity and notorious trials was well established — starting with the 1970 Charles Manson murder trial — when she became known to me. She was one of the media minions covering the 1992 Rodney King-beating trial, which was my baptism by fire as the greener than green new Los Angeles county courts public information officer.

 One of three photographs of Linda that grace my office — right beside one of me with Jay Leno when I gave him a copy of my book, Anatomy of a Trial. This is an 8-1/2 x 11-inch  collage of some of the more notorious trials she covered, which she sent to me with the inscription, “To Jerrianne–who made it all easier. You’re a great pal. Linda Deutsch.” Another photo is of Linda and me with our friend, famed author, movie producer and TV host Dominick Dunne, who has since passed, at a Las Vegas restaurant following a court proceeding in the Simpson robbery trial, which resulted in a sentence of up to 33 years.

I quickly came to know and respect her professionalism, just-the-facts reportage, and accuracy through that and a host of other cases that paraded through the L.A. courts, not the least of which was the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial.

She not only was a straight-shooter with me and her readers, she worked to keep judges honest, particularly when they closed proceedings to the public.  Her tenacity and passion for freedom of the press and the people’s right to know is reflected in the many mentions of her in Anatomy, such as this one: “She was also frequently the first, and often the only one, to leap to her feet in a courtroom to object when she believed a judge was about to wrongfully close proceedings to the public.”

The few stories I could tell about Linda would barely fill a thimble of her lifetime of experiences in the court/judicial/legal world. I, along with her legions of friends and colleagues, have been urging her for years to write a book.

It looks like she’s about to do that. “I consider it less a retirement than a transition to a new phase of my career — writing a memoir of my life and trials. And who knows what else will follow? In one way or another, I will continue to pursue my twin passions: journalism and justice,” she posted on Facebook.

‘Yay, Linda! I can’t wait to read it. But why couldn’t you wait just two more years and make it an even 50?

Bottom line, though, Linda is irreplaceable. She is among the last of the, not just truly great, but true journalists. Please, won’t someone rise up and again make journalism the watchdog and be the objective eyes and ears the public so desperately needs!

 

The Book Author Who Didn’t Dies

Reading this morning that Fatal Vision and The Selling of the President 1968 author Joe McGinniss died, I repressed the urge to say, another one bites the dust.

Joe’s death follows that of a number of notables from the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial–fellow authors Dominick Dunne and Joseph Bosco; defense attorneys Robert Kardashian and Johnnie Cochran; newspaper reporters Andrea Ford, Dennis Schatzman and Robin Clark (killed in an automobile collision late in the trial), at least one juror, Tracy Kennedy–although McGinniss ended up shucking the chance to profit from it after investing daily attendance at court proceedings for more than a year.

In Anatomy of a Trial (published in 2009 by University of Missouri Press), Joe makes his entrance at my office in the Los Angeles County Courthouse within days of Joe Bosco. Here are a couple of excerpts that spotlight the rivalry and contempt among writers of various stripes who intended to cover the trial:

Bosco, author of Blood Will Tell, about a DNA-based court case in New Orleans, arrived in my office in late August 1994 full of hand wringing and teeth gnashing over the news that he might not get a courtroom seat in the Simpson case. …

With his graying mane flopping over a forehead festooned with bushy eyebrows, he hrumphed at newspaper reporters, who were “at the bottom of the food chain,” getting seats over himself, Joseph Bosco, who had paid his reporting dues and graduated to the fine art of writing books. He spewed indignation that Fatal Vision author Joseph McGinniss, whom Bosco called a hack, was going to get a seat and Bosco might not. The very idea was unthinkable to any rational human being who had the slightest modicum of intelligence or literary knowledge. …

Joe McGinniss was the yin to Bosco’s yang. Quiet, unpretentious and anything but flamboyant, McGinniss washed in to my office not long after Bosco with the advent of Southern California’s rainy season. Intent on learning the terrain and players, he seemed oblivious to his dripping jacket and rivulets of water running off strings of his gray hair and into his eyes. He announced sometime into the trial that he wasn’t talking to anyone or doing any research. His book would be from the jury’s point of view and based entirely on what occurred in the courtroom.

Although Bosco beat McGinniss to Los Angeles, McGinniss had the upper hand. Within days after Ito got the Simpson case, McGinniss wrote to him requesting a seat. Ito agreed, then told me. It was a done deal. Ito would not go back on his word, even though in hindsight after learning the ultimate fate of the book McGinniss said he was going to write, he might have decided otherwise. At the end of the trial McGinniss ditched his book project and reportedly took off for Europe to cover international soccer.

Veteran reporter, Linda Deutsch, who is in her 47th year with The Associated Press as its renowned legal affairs reporter whose coverage goes back to the 1970 Charles Manson mass murder trial, was outraged than any book author got a media seat at the trial. Here’s what I wrote in Anatomy about her reaction:

While hers was a cult of professionalism as opposed to the cult of personality that imbued so much of the nouveau journalism that was emerging in the mid-1990s, Deutsch could express righteous indignation with the best of them. An example is when the Simpson trial seating plan included seats allocated to people who were writing books.

“That’s unconscionable,” she fumed, puffing up her five-foot-tall frame, her cloud of champagne-colored hair fairly shivering. “They’re just in it for the money. They won’t be reporting anything to anyone until their books come out months after the trial.”

And Joe McGinniss’s didn’t come out at all, and never will.

While we all know none of us will get out of this life alive, the departure is a bit unnerving when one among the Simpson-trial ranks, which, as Deutsch observed at the memorial gathering for Robin Clark, who was about 40 years old, that Joe McGinniss held at his rented Beverly Hills house following Clark’s shocking and untimely death in August of 1995, had become family.