Tag Archives: Jeffrey Toobin

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.

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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

Simpson Trial Photographer Troubled by Miniseries

Interesting Facebook post by photojournalist Haywood Galbreath, who was the only photographer to be inside the courtroom every day of the Simpson trial.

Haywood Galbreath tagged you and Bobby Glanton Smith in a post.
Haywood wrote: “It’s almost time for FX American crime story “The people vs. O.J. Simpson” which comes on Tuesday nights on FX. I have been quite troubled with the representation of as I say the honorable Judge Lance Ito who was the presiding judge of the O.J. Simpson double murder trial. I say honorable judge Lance Ito because that is what he was and will always be to me. Judge Ito had an almost insurmountable task ahead of him in being the judge of the trial that became the largest criminal court case in the history of America. And arguably the largest media event of the 20th century. Mainstream media which is defined as white owned media organizations criticized the judge almost from the beginning to the end of the trial. Criticizing him and saying that he let the trial get out of hand. The only thing in the trial that was really out of hand was mainstream media and it continues to be in America! The idea that judge Ito was mesmerized by the attention of the media and celebrities is inaccurate and borders on blasphemy of the integrity of the judge and his name. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons mainstream media criticizes judge Ito is because of his fairness when it came to media coverage of the trial. And the judge made a decision, the unprecedented decision of giving the Black Press of America a photo position in the courtroom which had never taken place in the history of America. In such a large criminal court case or actually any type of case in America. I Point this out and Ms.Jerrianne Hayslett continues to point out the unfairness of mainstream media and the inaccuracy of the FX American crime story “The people vs. O.J. Simpson” portrayal/ betrayal of judge Lance Ito. And she also points out the lies of writer Jeffrey Toobin whose book the run for his life the miniseries is based on. I also want to point out something else, no journalist no matter how large of news gathering organization they worked for had more access to judge Ito than myself photojournalist Haywood Galbreath. I spend more time in the judge’s chambers asking to see him as well as him inviting me in to his chambers to speak with me than any other journalist covering the trial. For 21 years I’ve seen journalist and heard mainstream media condemn the honorable judge lance Ito, and at the same time talk about how they held audience with him and wear it as a badge of honor! I am almost certain that Ms. Hayslett can prove that those journalists are lying and it did not happen the way they said it did! And I challenge any of them to prove that I did not spend more time in the chambers of the honorable judge Lance Ito for honorable reasons than they did! -IHMPJ/HG- #americancrimestory #PeoplevsOJSimpson #highprofiletrial #anatomyofatrial #Photo #iconic #image #picoftheday #photography #photographer #photojournalism #photojournalist #HG #BlackPress #BlackPressUSA #NNPA #NPPA #FOX #FX #Americancrimestory #OJ #HaywoodGalbreath #Photobook #OJSimpson #blackhistorymonth #historymakers #thepeoplevsOJSimpson #haywoodOJbook #OJbook #”

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”.

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.

‘Facts’ Wanting in ‘Crime Story’

I fear trying to keep up with all the reviews, observations, punditry about the FX miniseries based oh-so loosely on the 1995 O.J .Simpson murder trial is going to become a round-the-clock effort. My email inbox is crammed with Google News Alerts I set for O.J. Simpson way back in 2008 before my book, Anatomy of a Trial, was published.

Here are some excerpts in one from yesterday:

Excerpt 1)  “…three categories: those who remember all the details of the trial, those who don’t know anything at all, and those who (like me) remember enough to be delighted by the references and cameos, but have forgotten enough that the bizarre truths become freshly frustrating. But it’s exactly this story’s bizarre nature that makes Ryan Murphy’s ambitions new anthology series refreshingly not like a Ryan Murphy series at all. It is, perhaps surprisingly, understated and played straight (almost), being based off of Jeffrey Toobin’s nonfiction book The Run of His Life. The facts speak for themselves,”

So much flies in the face here, such as:

  • “those who remember all the details of the trial”   Who the heck can do that? I was there every day and even I can’t remember every detail. I took notes when court was in session and during every meeting I had with the trial judge, Lance Ito, which was daily and generally several times a day. And I kept daily written and audio journals.
  • “those who … remember enough to be delighted by the references and cameos, but have forgotten enough that the bizarre truths become freshly frustrating.”   Many of the ‘bizzare truths’ weren’t. They were misrepresentations of events, people and/or intentions. There were, indeed, bizarre truths about and related to the trial, but they were not reported by the media.
  • Ryan Murphy’s ambitions new anthology series”   Anthology?
  • Jeffrey Toobin’s nonfiction book”   Not nonfiction. Nonfiction-fiction hybrid.

Excerpt 2) “Speaking of parody, there are a few winking moments included in the series that work through a knowing hindsight, like Judge Ito’s (Kenneth Choi) preoccupation with celebrity…”

Judge Ito’s (Kenneth Choi) preoccupation with celebrity…”  Not!   I am well aware of how he was portrayed by the news media. Most of it was misrepresented to flat out not true. The best way to understand Ito and his ‘preoccupations’ is to read Anatomy of a Trial.

 

Excerpt 3)  “…the trial essentially being conducted to the public nightly through Larry King Live.”  Again, Not! Ir boggles my mind how people can make such specious and ridiculous assertions. King having members of the media who were covering the trial, legal pundits and people associated with the trial participants, no matter how faintly, on his show was a far cry from conducting the trial there. Saying/writing such a thing is just ignorant.

The Mystery is Solved!

No, not the mystery of “Did he do it?” That was settled long ago, at least in the minds of everyone who had an opinion.

This mystery was, where did Jeffery Toobin come up with his tale of what happened in Simpson trial judge Lance Ito’s chambers when TV talk show celebrity Larry King visited during the trial?

Larry King revealed the answer himself last night at a Los Angeles Society of Professional Journalists’ super-duper, fantastic Linda Deutsch Roast. Deutsch rested her 48-year career in January as The Associated Press’s star reporter for high-profile and notorious trials since the 1969 Manson Family spectacles. Last night, journalists and media lawyers from far and wide gathered to honor and poke fun at this super-scribe and maven of courtroom dramas.

King blew in and out of last night’s soiree long enough to regale the 200 or so (my uneducated guesstimate) attendees with anecdotes and jokes, mostly about himself. (A reporter sitting next to me summed up King’s performance succinctly with his observation that, “I thought this was supposed to be about Linda.”)

One tale King told was about his visit with the judge during a break in the trial. Except for a few embellishments, such as getting a FAX signed “Lance” (he didn’t know anyone named Lance he told the Roast audience, and weren’t people named Lance gay?) inviting him to visit, King related almost word for word what Toobin wrote about that visit in his book, which Toobin promoted by calling Ito a “La-La-Land judge.”

“He had all his press clippings there,” King said last night. “He was so proud of them and he went on and on about them. Finally, I said, ‘Don’t you have to get back to the trial?’ And he said, ‘I’m the judge.’” King told about going into the courtroom where Simpson greeted him. Then saying he didn’t want to appear to favor one side over the other, King went to the prosecutors’ table and spoke to them.

Entertaining stuff. Except it never happened. I know, because I was there.

I can’t attest to the FAX signed “Lance”, but here’s what I do know, which I wrote about in Anatomy of a Trial:

“King’s assistant, Ellen Beard, called to say he was going to be in L.A. and still wanted to interview Ito or have him on his show, I knew the judge would decline. But … I thought he might consider thanking King in person for understanding his position and accommodating his requests, not just once, but twice.  First was when Ito declined to participate in a show about media complaints of restrictions in the case. King read Ito’s written statement on air, with no edits or omissions, about all he had done to accommodate the media. The second occasion was when King was the only TV talk or magazine show host who, at Ito’s request, delayed interviewing Nicole Brown Simpson’s self-described best friend Faye Resnick when her “tell-all” book came out on the eve of jury selection. So I offered to see if Ito would be willing to at least say hello to King.”

It was definitely a good intention that went south, which I included in my book “to illustrate how an event is seen, perceived, remembered and retold, particularly when hearsay forms the foundation.”

Here is how the entire visit went down:

“I accompanied King and his entourage of producer, staff assistant and college-student daughter, Chaia, from the elevator lobby through another courtroom, Department 105, and down the back hallway toward Ito’s chambers.

But instead of going in, King stood in the back doorway to the courtroom and waved to the press corps in the spectator seats.

With the help of Deputy Sheriff John Castro, who had accompanied us from the elevator, we finally steered everyone into Ito’s chambers. There, we waited for twenty minutes while court remained in session with King fidgeting impatiently, saying several times that his time was limited. When Ito took a break, rather than “rambling on about the case,” though, he spent most of the time listening to King name drop, boast about dating the defense team’s jury consultant, Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, and compare Ito’s modest chambers and small courtroom to the grandiose federal courthouse and judges’ accommodations in Miami. As Ito turned his attention to Chaia and asked about her education, King, started beckoning to the defense lawyers who had gathered in the chambers’ doorway to come in.

The lawyers flooded in with King glad-handing and back-slapping them like old friends. Instead, Toobin portrays King as being concerned about Ito’s time and quotes King directly when he writes in his book that King asks Ito, “‘Don’t you have to get back to court?’” Although I was standing directly behind the sofa where King was seated, I not only didn’t hear King utter those words, that didn’t even seem to be on his mind. In fact, Ito seemed to have slipped from his mind entirely as he continued to laugh and joke with the lawyers while Ito donned and snapped up his robe. Neither did the entourage follow Ito “through the rear door into the well of the courtroom,” as Toobin relates. Both Ito and I were trapped behind the gaggle of lawyers, King and King’s entourage as they squeezed through the cramped passage behind the clerk’s chair. Peering past their heads, I watched with horror as the lockup door opened, the bailiff escort Simpson into the courtroom and Cochran start to steer King toward the defendant to greet him. My repeated, “Please don’t do that,” finally got Cochran’s attention. Later Cochran told me I needn’t have worried, he would never have let them shake hands.

King, with his group following, proceeded into the courtroom well where King greeted the prosecution team. Then King’s daughter, who had followed him into the courtroom, drew a raised eyebrow and a “you don’t want to go in there!” from Simpson and a laugh from the spectators when she turned to leave and, with the help of her famous father, tried to pull open the wrong door—the one that led into the courtroom’s inmate lockup area.”

As I note on my website at www.anatomyofatrial.com, “…New Yorker writer/CNN legal analyst Jeffry Toobin shows why courts don’t–and shouldn’t–permit hearsay testimony. Pages 65-67”

Listening to King last night reminded me of how horrified I felt when I learned that that a TV series-in-the-making that is being promoted harder and more furiously than the recent Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing debacle is based on Toobin’s book.

Yep, my suggestion that Ito thank King in person was indeed a good intention that went south – a direction it continues to sink to to this day.