Tag Archives: jury

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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A Fact that Just Isn’t

People are emerging from the woodwork all over the place getting their “memories” of the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial published in all manner of places.

Such is the case with The Hollywood Reporter “guest columnist” Craig Tomashoff. In a piece with the headline ‘People v. O.J. Simpson’: My Date With Juror No. 7 (Guest Column), Tomashoff, who says he was working as a correspondent in People magazine’s Los Angeles bureau in the mid-1990s,  writes:

“A dozen of us were given a special bit of information we had to keep to ourselves: the name and address of one of the jurors.

“The fact that we had these details, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Superior Court, was proof of how the media had taken more control of the case than the attorneys; it didn’t fill me with a lot of faith in our judicial system that such private information was so readily available.”

I can’t attest to the veracity of Mr. Tomashoff’s claim of chasing Simpson juror Brenda Moran, or conversations with Moran’s relatives, but one of his assertions I know that is absolutely false is that he or any other member of the media got the name and/or address of any of the jurors “Courtesy of the Los Angeles Superior Court” — at least not in any straightforward means.

The jurors’ names were never made public by the Court. Nor were they given to members of the media. Neither were their addresses, employers or other personal information.

It is true that the news media did obtain the names, addresses and who their employers were, but that was from private investigators one or more news organizations hired to ferret out that information.

To their credit, even though most, if not all of the media covering the trial had that information well into the trial, none identified them in any of their reports until after the trial.

It is not surprising that People magazine and other print and broadcast/cable outlets knew the jurors’ names and home addresses had staffers staking out the jurors’ homes. That was well known by Court officials as jurors were dismissed for various reasons during the trial. (In fact, all 12 jurors ended up being dismissed as the trial progressed and were replaced by the 12 alternate jurors who sat in the jury box and were sequestered with the primary jurors throughout the trial. One of the trial judge’s concerns is that juror misconduct or illness might cause an alternate who had become a regular juror to be excused, which could have resulted in a mistrial.)

It could have been that once People and other media organizations learned the jurors’ names and who their employers were, they contacted the employers, in Moran’s case that could have been Human Resources or the department where she worked, to confirm that she, indeed, was a court employee, but at no time did the Court itself officially release the names and/or other information about the jurors on that case.

Prior to the Simpson trial, court policy was to provide names, only, of the jurors, that was changed, however, following a string of high profile cases in which jurors were hounded by the media who wanted to interview them post verdict. Because of juror complaints claiming media harassment, the Court changed its policy, allowing jurors to indicate that they did not want their names to be made public. The Court also began to make juries on some criminal cases, such as the Simpson trial, anonymous, keeping their names confidential post-trial.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/people-v-oj-interview-juror-877435

What was Wrong with the Gloves Scenario

Tierney Brickner, writing for E! (I can’t duplicate the actual logo on my computer), did me the great favor of posting side-by-side footage of last night’s scene in the American Crime Story miniseries about the OJ Simpson trial of Cuba Gooding Jr.courtroom scene in which he re-enacted  Simpson trying on the gloves that were found at the scene of Nicole Brown’s and Ronald Goldman’s murders and behind Simpson’s house and that of the actual trial.

When I watched the drama last night, the trying-on effort seemed pretty much as I remembered it. The side-by-side footage confirmed it. Here’s the link so you can check it out: http://www.eonline.com/news/749108/just-how-accurate-was-the-infamous-glove-scene-from-the-people-v-o-j-simpson-watch-chilling-side-by-side-comparison

Some things going on in the background during the gloves demonstration and elsewhere in the series, however, that weren’t accurate, such as:

  1. People in the spectator seats standing up to get a better view of Simpson trying to pull on the gloves.
  2. People in the courtroom being ordered by the bailiff to stand when trial judge entered the courtroom.
  3. People in the spectator seats not rising when the jurors entered the courtroom.
  4. People standing and milling around when the jury was in the courtroom.
  5. The trial judge, Lance Ito, banging his gavel when he declared court to be in recess.

From my vantage point in the back of the courtroom where I had a full view of the courtroom, I saw no one stand to get a better view of the glove demo. I also know that if anyone had done so, one of the sheriff’s deputies stationed there would have immediately instructed them to sit down or to leave.

The judge’s instruction to his bailiff was to directive people in the courtroom to remain seated when he took the bench, so at no time did the bailiff order spectators to rise when Ito entered.

The judge’s instruction to his bailiff was for everyone in the courtroom to rise when the jurors entered the courtroom and to remain standing until they were seated in the jury box.

No one ever stood or moved about the courtroom when court was in session.

Ito didn’t bang or even rap a gavel at any time during the trial, whether declaring court in recess or for any other reason. How do I know?Although Ito had a couple of ceremonial and souvenir gavels in his chambers, he  didn’t keep or use a gavel on the bench.

All of that might seem inconsequential  or like who-cares minutia, but it’s important to me because much of it plays into the media-created misperception that he ran a  loosey-goosey courtroom.

Despite what people think they know about Ito’s courtroom management, he ran a tighter courtroom, with rules of what was allowed and what wasn’t allowed posted on the courtroom door and on the rows of spectator seats, than many other judges. Plus, he issued court orders several times during the trial addressing disruptive conduct, primarily by members of the media, and had a number of them removed from the courtroom for failing to observe those orders.

One thing that was apparently very wrong with the miniseries drama was that Deputy District Attorney Christopher Darden went rogue in having Simpson try on the gloves. Marcia Clark has in interviews and writing said that Darden didn’t go it alone in the Simpson glove demo, that she was on board with it. That, however, I don’t know first hand.

1 Trial Down, Instructions to Go

The closings are done.

Both sides ever contentious.

The waiting begins.

9/29/95

Just because both sides had concluded their closing arguments, didn’t mean they stopped going for each other’s jugular, trying to make last minute points in the last couple of days before the jury got the case.

Reagan Library in the News Now and Then

Reagan Library.

Do jurors want to visit?

First Lady turned down.

9/18/95

Can you imagine,  the O.J. Simpson trial jurors nixed Nancy Reagan’s invitation to tour the Reagan Library, or maybe it was the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office, which was charged with the care and feeding of the jury. Maybe because the Library location of Simi Valley, was too far away — about 45 miles — or too… I don’t know. I can’t say too much, since I lived there. In Simi Valley, not at the Library.

And here it is nearly 20 years later, and the Reagan Library is making headlines. This time as the venue for the second Republican Presidential Primary Debate, for an election that is more than a year away.

Maybe that’s the connection. Media hype. And reality show star.

 

Jury Summons — No One Is Spared

The summons is out.

Everyone gets one sometime.

Even Lance Ito.

5/17/95

In the midst of the trial, Judge Ito received a jury summons.  Oh, the irony!

Even the California Chief Justice was summoned, and he served! Or at least he tried to. More accurately, he reported in, but no one wanted him on their jury.

Another Juror Kicked

A juror question.

453 is excused.

Just what she asked for.

5/1/95

So many jurors got kicked during the course of the Simpson trial that before it was all over the 12 people who were selected as regular jurors had all been replaced by the 12 people who were selected as alternate jurors. Here’s an excerpt from my recorded journal about a juror being dismissed:

” … there was an article in the Daily News about yet another juror asking to be released from jury duty.  This one complaining that her husband is sick and she is concerned about him and it is distracting and so forth.  She was identified as a 38-year-old white woman and I showed it to Judge Ito and I sure hadn’t heard anything about it.  So he asked if they identified the juror and I said, “Yes, a 38-year-old white woman,” and he said, “Yep, that’s her,”

Apparently this knowledge came out in the conversations that the judge had with the jurors.  The transcripts of those meetings, which were held in chambers with the doors closed, have not yet been released.  So it’s like, OK, how do they know?  And he said, “How does the press find this out?”  I said, “Well, you’ve got some attorneys that are talking — either that or it’s your court reporter and I don’t think it’s your court reporter.” So he said, “Hmm, [he named another person who was present during the conversation] was in those meetings.” … I said, “Well, I know that [person Ito named]has a very, very cozy relationship with a member of the media, not associated with the Daily News, in fact it’s [I named that person and that person’s news organization].  If she’s got a cozy relationship with one, she could very easily have a cozy relationship with others.”  He said, “Yeah, well, I think she is the problem.  She has been in here, I have allowed her to be in here, I think she is not going to be in here anymore.=  Then, in open court, he said that he wanted to meet with the lead counsel from both sides at noon for about 15 minutes in chambers.  I asked him what it was about because the media will want to know what it is about and he said, “It’s none of their business, but between you and me I’ll tell you, it’s about this article. I’m thinking about requiring every single person who was in my meetings with the jurors to make a sworn affidavit statement swearing that they did not leak this information.” … I asked him if he is sure that his chambers are not bugged and he said, “Yeah, they have come in and swept it.”  I said, “What about the telephones?” and he said, “Well, you know it could be.”

He talked to the sheriff’s sergeant in charge of the 9th floor about checking to see if his telephone was tapped.