Tag Archives: Los Angeles Superior Court

Professional and Gentleman Honored by L.A. City Council

This headline, “La Cañada resident Royal Oakes honored by L.A. City Council for 30 years of commentary” posted yesterday, warmed my heart.”I met Royal 26 years ago when I was the brand new soaking-wet-behind-the-ears Los Angeles Superior Court Director of Public Information and Royal was providing commentary for KNX-AM all-news radio station. The news du jour was the Rodney King beating-trial verdicts that prompted days-long rioting in Los Angeles. He and I interacted countless times in the course of numerous high-profile trials. He was consistently professional, respectful and, in his capacity as Radio Television News Association’s general counsel, enormously helpful.

He is so deserving of this honor by the Los Angeles City Council. I have the highest regard for him and wish him well. I’m glad his radio program, “The Royal Oakes Show” is available via podcast.

 

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Where a Precious Few Are Now

In an apparent attempt to hitch a ride on Sunday’s Academy Awards in which ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America is nominated in the “Best Documentary Feature category, comes this brief on where five of the host of O.J. Simpson murder trial principals are now. I can’t think of any other justification for this little story.

Interestingly, the entry for the Simpson trial judge, Lance Ito, says he “became the most famous judge in the world, but then stayed out of the limelight. He retired in 2015.”

Omitted from that blurb is that during the 20 years between the end of the Simpson trial in 1995 and Ito’s retirement in  2015, he was one of the very few Los Angeles Superior Court judges to continue to allow camera coverage of proceedings in his courtroom. That in the face of judges and collective judiciaries in California, in the rest of the U.S. and in other countries that cited and continue to cite Ito allowing camera coverage of the Simpson trial for an almost universal camera ban in their jurisdictions.

 

Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson tells why Ito allowed cameras in both the Simpson trial and other court proceedings, and the fear and trepidation that kept his judicial colleagues from following suit.

A Sad Anniversary

Twenty-one years ago today a jury in Los Angeles that had been sequestered for nearly 9 months and was itching to go home, declared O.J. Simpson not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown and Brown’s friend Ron Goldman on a June night in 1994.

I have spent a good deal of my professional and personal time since then trying to correct many misperceptions that have abounded ever since the Simpson case entered the court.

Now, as the 21st anniversary date comes and goes after a year of TV blockbusters rewarded with Emmy nominations and awards, which not only perpetuated many of those misperceptions but created new ones, such as Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark’s accusation that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, who presided over Simpson’s trial, is sexist and misogynistic, my one small voice is getting smaller and being drowned out in all the renewed ballyhoo.

I saw in the news some time ago that Clark was making a public appearance in Milwaukee this month. I rehearsed daily what I would say during her q&A session of that appearance. But I’ve decided to save my time, money and breath. Trying to say anything would be futile and upset me more than anyone else, and certainly not Clark.

Even though I feel a bit of closure with this decision, I will continue to promote and sell Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson, post comments and observations on this blog, and post status updates on my “Anatomy of a Trial by Jerrianne Hayslett” Facebook page.

My experience with that trial, the Los Angeles courts, the media that covered them and all the characters who were part of them, will always be part of me.

On Your Mark, Get Ready, Wrong!

When I read the news in The Hollywood Reporter that ‘Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Murders’ Ordered to Series at NBCI could only hope the series will be more accurate than this promo.

Here is the misinfo that is probably the most blatant:

“The siblings, who were 21 and 18 years old, respectively, at the time of the murders, were tried separately but eventually found guilty in a third trial after no verdicts were rendered in the first two because of hung juries.”

There were only two Menendez brothers’ trials. The first began on July 20, 1993, and ended on January 28, 1994. Although it was a single trial, two juries were seated, one to determine the guilt or innocence of older brother Lyle, the other to judge the guilt or innocence of younger brother Erik. Both juries hung and the trial judge, Stanley Weisberg, declared a mistrial in each case. The second trial began on August 23, 1995, and ended on March 20, 1996. That trial had a single jury which found both brothers guilty and Weisberg sentenced them both to life in prison without possibility of parole.

I attended, handled media issues and interfaced with the judge on both trials.

Less offending but confusing is the sentence in The Hollywood Reporter theis “Like the Simpson trial, the Menendez brothers trial became an early hit for then-burgeoning cable channel CourtTV.” The reason it’s confusing is because it doesn’t specify which Menendez trial “became an early hit for … CourtTV.” What does that matter? CourtTV televised only the first Menendez trial. Weisberg didn’t allow a TV camera in the courtroom during the second one. Because of that ban broadcasters debated how extensively to cover it. The second Menendez trial definitely wasn’t key to CourtTV making its bones.

 

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman Loser

Former Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark, with guns blazing, is rising from the ashes of her humiliating defeat with the 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Clark’s resurgence is due, in part, to a wave of sympathetic publicity with a recent airing of an FX multi-part melodrama.

She has narrowed the focus of her shotgun spray of blame that riddled her 20-year-old multi-million-dollar co-written post-trial memoir and taken aim on just the trial judge.

Although never camera or reporter-notebook shy in the years since penning that memoir, Clark is capitalizing on her newfound fame by targeting Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito, who retired last year, with a revisionist trial  history extraordinaire.

The first fabrication that hit my radar was an interview a few weeks ago in which Clark claimed that Ito was the one who came up with the idea for Simpson to try on the so-called bloody gloves that led to defense attorney Johnnie Cochran’s now-infamous line, “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Despite being in the courtroom and behind the scenes every day, meeting with Ito daily–sometime several times a day, keeping up with the media coverage and reading, hearing and writing a lot about the case in the years since, I had never heard anything about Ito coming up with the idea to have Simpson try on the gloves.

Rather than rely solely on my memory, although I would have  had to be deep in the clutches of dementia to have forgotten something that significant, I checked with a reporter who attended every day of the trial and probably had the best access to all of the lawyers in that case, and, eventually to Simpson himself.

“I never heard any such thing and think it’s an effort to rewrite history,” the reporter said.

I also checked with one of Ito’s law interns who worked in his chambers and was privy to every aspect of the case. Like the reporter, the law intern knew about or had heard anything like Clark’s assertion.

“Uughh,” the law intern, who is now a practicing attorney with her own firm, wrote in reply to my question. “I was there that day and I have no memory of the gloves idea coming from Judge Ito. As usual he had the job of ruling on their asinine ideas. She [Clark] continues to disappoint as a female attorney role model. She really has no moral compass.”

I’m pretty sure I know about the ethics of a judge presiding over a criminal case suggesting to lawyers on either side how they should present evidence. For confirmation, I contacted a judge who sat on the LA court bench during years I worked there, and who has since retired and is currently a private judge.

Such a comment would be very inappropriate for a judge to make, the retired judge said. “Even if it takes the form of ‘why don’t you’ do this or that, it would look like the judge was trying to assist that side. That is clearly unethical.”

To have done so without defense attorneys present would constitute ex parte communication, which is, without a doubt, judicial misconduct.

Given the scrutiny that trial, the judge and the parties got, it’s a sure bet that any such suggestion would have been found out and the judge would have been subject to reprimand, at the very least. Plus, Ito was absolutely assiduous to make sure he did everything completely by the books to prevent a mistrial or be overturned on appeal, should Simpson be convicted.

In other words, Clark pulled that little gem of finger pointing from some orifice other than her mouth.

In another interview, this time on Late Night with Seth Meyers, she said she had never had a judge be so openly sexist as Judge Ito was.  Judge Ito is many things, but sexist isn’t one of them, to which, I dare say, females in his personal and professional life, will attest.

Clark is quoted in Monday’s New York Daily News describing Ito as “unprofessional” and criticized him for allowing the trial to be “turned into a circus” because he allowed it to be televised and for “his infatuation with the media.”

Ho boy.

First, at one point in a hearing on whether to allow cameras, Clark advocated for televising the trial.

“Allowing cameras to remain in the courtroom would give the public the opportunity to see what the evidence actually is and to hear the truth,” she told Ito during a November 7, 1994, hearing on whether or not to televise the trial. “The best way to refute unfounded rumors and wild speculative theories is to permit everyone to see and hear the evidence that is presented in court. … No matter how thorough and fair reporters are, their coverage cannot equal the evidence of witnessing a trial first hand.”

Second, although plenty of antics went on nonstop outside the courtroom and around the courthouse, there was no circus in the courtroom — plenty of video footage exists and the trial transcript proves that. However, Clark herself was one of the clowns Ito struggled to keep reined in.

Attorneys’ conduct so egregious, including that of Clark — in spades — that Ito, after repeatedly fining them, finally resorted to issuing a court order spelling out what they could and could not do — down to “no eye rolling.” I included the entire text of that order on pages 136-137 in my book, Anatomy of a Trial. Even then, he continued to have to fine them and threaten to hold them in contempt because they refused to behave. The amount in fines Ito levied against the Simpson trial attorneys — on both sides — exceeded that of any criminal trial in the state’s history at that time.

So far as being “infatuated with the media” is concerned, disappointment or even contempt for many of them would be more accurate as he witnessed their excesses and making him the brunt of their exaggerations and misrepresentations.

In that Daily News interview, Clark said, “He sits down for a six-part interview in the middle of the trial about his life. Who does this?”

What Clark is misremembering is (1)  Ito didn’t sit down for a six-part interview and (2) an interview he did do wasn’t in the middle of the trial.

Months before the Jan. 23, 1995, opening statements, a TV reporter asked to interview Ito in connection with the opening of an L.A. museum exhibit of the World War II Heart Mountain Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, which is where a man and woman who married and became Ito’s parents met. After long consideration and conferring with a number of people, he finally decided to do it, but only with the assurance that the subject would not be the Simpson case but would focus only on the exhibit and the issue of Japanese internment. He also insisted on several other conditions, including that the station not promote the interview in advance and would air it only once and that would be during an 11 p.m. newscast.

As described on page 25 of Anatomy of a Trial the station violated every condition, including buying full-page newspaper ads and splitting the interview into six parts, which aired in six consecutive broadcasts.

Then there was this in a June 14, 2016,   Chicago Tribune article:

“Clark said that while she was generally pleased with the FX series, it failed to capture how Ito was ‘entranced by his media moment’ and ‘the steady stream of celebrities coming in and out of chambers’ during the trial. Sometimes the celebs Ito had invited backstage demanded to meet her, too, she said.

“‘I’m actually trying a lawsuit … I don’t need to meet Jimmy Dean,” she said of one encounter with the crooner-turned-sausage king. “I mean, I love your sausage, sir!'”

Did celebrities show up at the trial? Yes, as more and more it became the place to be seen. Many were, themselves, members of the media. And yes, some did meet Ito in his chambers, although I would hardly describe it as a “steady stream.” And one, which became a disastrous fiasco, was entirely my doing,  which I have rued every since.

But Jesus, Jimmy Dean? I saw neither of them. Neither did I hear or know of any who even asked, much less demanded to meet Clark. I don’t know of any who thought she was worth their while. So maybe her bruised ego is prompting her to make such a claim now.

“This is disgusting,” the reporter I talked to about Clark’s glove claim said. “She is trying to sell her books and somehow find absolution for her inept performance 22 years ago. To attack Ito is beyond the pale.”

What does Ito have to say about all of this?

Nothing. Which is what he said during, and has continued to say since, the trial. At least not publicly, which is why Clark thinks she can say whatever she wants without consequence. Given that Ito has consistently refrained from speaking out against his critics, Clark can be pretty sure he won’t now.

While Clark and her ilk have capitalized on their fame from the trial over and over and in many forms and formats, Ito hasn’t. He hasn’t written a book or gone on the rubber-chicken circuit or hauled in huge speaking fees like Clark has and is continuing to do.

I’m pretty sure he won’t speak up this time either. Clark probably isn’t worth his while.

 

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

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”.