Tag Archives: Los Angeles Times

Morrison Captures How It Really Was

It’s O.J. Simpson trial 20th anniversary verdict eve. I’m about as far removed from the Los Angeles Superior Court, high-profile trials and news-media frenzies as I can imagine and still be on the North American continent. I’m ensconced in a hotel room at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on the eve of my husband’s high school reunion. We had dinner this evening with my husband’s best friend since they were both in third grade and his wife and sister. Not once during the entire evening was that 20-year-old trial, the name of the defendant or my book, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson mentioned.

Afterwards, back in our hotel room, I logged onto the Internet, and saw a Simpson Google News Alert email in my inbox. The link was to a piece by Patt Morrison, who was a Los Angeles Times columnist when I knew her in Los Angeles. Upon reading what she wrote yesterday, I had to blog about it.

Patt’s piece, published on SCPR’s “Off-Ramp” site, is about the best, most accurate recall I’ve seen or heard about how that court case was was and the media’s chagrin at their behavior in covering it. (In my opinion, there were some standout exceptions, such as the AP’s Linda Deutsch and CBS Radio’s David Dow).

Here’s a quote from this account by L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison: “And, as with a really bad hangover, when it was all over, we were more than a little mortified about how overboard we’d gone. And we promised ourselves that we would never, ever, go that wild and crazy again. Because there would never be a case like this one, ever again. Until, of course, the next one.”

Patt not only captured the trial and the media’s chagrin accurately, she’s right that their chagrin lasted — until the next high-profile trial came along. I urge readers of this blog to read Patt’s piece. Here’s a direct link, in case you missed the embedded link. Good job, Patt.   http://www.scpr.org/programs/offramp/2015/10/01/44661/patt-morrison-on-oj/

Autopsy Photos: Coveted, Dissed

Kelli Sager’s here

Beseeching on press’s behalf.

Autopsy photos.


Media attorney Kelli Sager petitioned the court on the media’s behalf for them to have access to the autopsy photographs of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. Before Judge Ito ruled on Sager’s request, the prosecution presented the photos as evidence in the trial. Below the following haiku is an account, much quoted from Anatomy of a Trial, chronicling that day.

No respect for kin.

Jurors view gruesome photos

While press eats, chews gum.


Ito had issued a court order, which I posted on the courtroom door and the backs of the spectator seats. The order prohibited talking, reading newspapers, chewing gum, eating or having audible cell phones and pagers on while court was in session. Despite being prominently displayed and being distributed to all media organizations that were assigned a courtroom seat. Yet people still talked, chewed and had phones and pagers going off in the courtroom. Ito scolded from the bench, had cell phones and pagers confiscated and had courtroom deputies get gum chewers spite their gum into. wads of toilet paper.

One day during the lunch recess, Ito summoned me.

“’Come here I want to show you something,’ he said, beckoning me up on the bench. He played a videotape of several spectators, all in media seats, masticating. While most appeared to be chewing gum, one was obviously popping handfuls of some kind of snacks into her mouth.

“Ito instructed me to have that person come to his chambers during the afternoon break. When court reconvened following that break, he announced that those who had been chewing gum and eating in court that morning were to be excluded from the courtroom. Instead of being contrite, as I expected, they and the rest of the media were aghast.

“’What?’ exclaimed USA Today reporter Sally Stewart. ‘Is he serious? He can’t be serious! He can’t do that! That is ridiculous, just for chewing gum in the courtroom. How come we don’t get any warning. He can’t just do that!’

“Stewart, one of the culprits, wondered along with others what the big deal was.

“The big deal, I explained over and over, was:

“(1)   Judges commonly don’t allow eating, drinking or gum-chewing in their courtrooms,

“(2)   Most courtrooms have those prohibitions posted on their doors, as did Ito’s,

“(3)   Ito had issued a specific court order forbidding chewing gum, eating, drinking, reading newspapers, talking, and passing notes in the courtroom, and had copies of the order taped in plain sight all over his courtroom,

“(4)   Not a day goes by that deputies don’t tell spectators not to chew gum and even hand them wads of toilet paper to spit theirs in,

“(5)   Everybody in the courtroom watches those little dramas, complete with the gum chewers’ sheepish looks.

“’It is just unbelievable,’ I recorded in my journal on the way home that night, ‘I don’t know why they think they haven’t had any warning or why they think they don’t know the rules.

“But the way the media related this in their reports was to demean Ito, call him petty and accuse him of blowing minutia out of proportion, given the serious business everyone was there for. Los Angeles Times columnist and future city editor Bill Boyarsky, for instance, announced a preview of his account.

“’I know what my column is going to be about tomorrow,’ he said. ‘My third grade teacher, that’s who Judge Ito reminds me of¼no chewing gum in class.’

“That just went with the territory, so far as Ito was concerned, but what had really offended him was the media’s insensitivity to what else was occurring in the courtroom as the reporter snacked on Skittles. The Los Angeles County medical examiner was testifying about the autopsy photographs and explaining to jurors what they were looking at. I felt pretty outraged myself.”

“’Here is the medical examiner describing those horrendous, fatal wounds,’ I recorded in disgust. ‘Photographs that are graphic. The wounds are laid wide open. Here are jurors who are trying to look at those photographs and understand the portent of it all. Here are the relatives of the people whose loved ones were killed and whose bodies are laid out there for all to see. And here is this woman who is so insensitive that she is popping food in her mouth and chewing so casually as if this is just a leisure activity. And people were saying, ‘How come the judge overreacted?’ I don’t call that an overreaction, I call that a compassionate human being.’”

From Famous to Infamous

With the retirement of two icons of the 1995  O.J. Simpson trial — one a household name, the other not quite as famous — the tables seem to have turned, so far as mention in the news and on social media is concerned.

Ito, Linda and me . 7.29.2013

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito is closing the door to his courthouse chambers for the last time and on his 25-years as a Superior Court jurist. It’s hard to find much about Ito’s retirement or much of anything else associated with him in online searches. The “Lance Ito” Google News Alert emails that land in my inbox these days link to the same old snarky cracks and critiques by armchair parrots who have no direct, first-hand knowledge about the trial or the judge.

In June of last year (yes, 2014 is now last year) the Los Angeles Times did its obligatory “where are they now” piece observing the 20th anniversary of the Nicole Brown/Ronald Goldman murders, which led to the notorious ’95 Simpson trial.

Judge Lance Ito, still on the Los Angeles Superior Court bench has presided over some 500 trials since the Simpson case made him famous,” the Times Staff Writer reported. “He long ago took his name plate off his courtroom door because it kept getting stolen. He is not standing for reelection this year and will retire in 2015 with few plans other than to learn to play guitar.”

One place his name still routinely appears, though, is the world of crossword puzzles. The blessing or curse of having and three-letter name.

While Linda Deutsch’s name might not be in a crossword puzzle, as either a clue or an answer, news accounts have proliferated for days about her retirement after 48 years with The Associated Press. She’s being interviewed on numerous television and radio programs, and accolades, praise and congratulations flooded Facebook when she told her Friends she was hanging it up with the AP to work on a memoir of her astounding high-profile-trial coverage going back to Charles Manson in 1970.

Deutsch covered almost every day of the Simpson trial — I know, because not only was I there, I kept track of all the media representatives who were there. As pool reporter for the rest of the news media during the trial, she became the most identifiable face and voice reporting on the courtroom proceedings.

The intersection of the retirements of these two icons, both of whom I greatly admire and respect, is to me, ironic.

Deutsch, one of the most experienced, accomplished, objective, straight-shooting reporters of legal cases and court proceedings, became one of Ito’s staunchest defenders both at conferences, in interviews and in my book, “Anatomy of a Trial.”

When I said in an email to Ito the other day that it was hard to think of him as retired, ever the wit, his rejoinder was, “Well, since Linda Deutsch is no longer around to chronicle my trials and travails I decided to pack it in.”

I never read an error or misrepresentation in Deutsch’s reports, but her accounts were an exception during the media saturation of the Simpson trial.

The coda of media reports failing to get it right is reflected in the June 2014 L.A. Times 20-year update, O.J. Simpson case figures found fame, but not all of it welcomed, with it’s assertion that, “He long ago took his name plate off his courtroom door because it kept getting stolen.”

My understanding is that Ito didn’t take his name plate off his courtroom door because it kept getting stolen. He couldn’t take it off because it did keep getting stolen (by souvenir seekers, no doubt). After the court facilities folks replaced it and it was swiped, yet again, for the umpteenth time, he told them to not bother replacing it again.

Best wishes to both reporter Deutsch and jurist Ito as they start on the next chapters in their storied lives.

First Simpson Reporter to Die, Sadly Not the Last

A trial reporter.

Chris Harris covered his last.

Fatal heart attack.

During the holiday hiatus came word that KTTV-Channel 11 reporter Chris Harris had died. Here’s the Los Angeles Times initial report:

Chris Harris; Award-Winning TV Journalist

Chris Harris, whose arduous gavel-to-gavel coverage of the first Rodney G. King beating trial helped KTTV win Peabody and duPont Columbia awards for community service while making him Broadcast Journalist of the Year for the Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, has died.”
A memorial was held a few days later on the KTTV news set. Sadly, it wasn’t the last such remembrance during the Simpson trial and while the one for Chris was attended primarily by members of the media, the next one, held in August, included representatives of every aspect of the case.


Out-of-Simpson-Court Churnings

No matters were heard in open court today or for the next few days, but issues churned furiously behind the scenes.

An Aug. 5, 1994, Los Angeles Times story ruminated on the acting California Secretary of State Tony Miller’s worry that O. J. Simpson’s trial might derail the state’s Nov. 8 election that included a “down-to-the-wire contest” between incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson and challenger Kathleen Brown.

“If he [Simpson] is on the stand on the eighth of November, we simply shout the process down,” the Times quotes Miller as saying. “I’m not even going to show up.”

Miller was commenting on “…an era of declining voter participation–and a populace transfixed by the Simpson trial unfolding on television–could this truly be the year when they hold an election and no one comes?” the Times story said.

My Aug. 8 haiku reveals what Miller decided to do about that. Hope you tune in in a few days to see what that was.

Did Citing Tip Make it So?

The haiku I wrote 20 years ago today,

Tip appears in print.

Attorneys quote it as fact.

The press makes the news


was based on an August 3, 1994, Los Angeles Times column that recounted an earlier Times story, which included a list of “tips” that had been churned up in the O.J. Simpson case. One tip, which the Times said it  wasn’t able to verify, was from a man who claimed to have been across the street from Nicole Brown’s Bundy Street condo the night she and Ronald Goldman were murdered. The man reportedly told police he saw two bearded white men near the condo’s back gate, subsequently heard a woman scream, then saw the same two men run away. The day after that Times story, the Times columnist wrote, Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran said in court that, “There is at least one witness who police have talked to some time ago, and are apparently talking to him even as we speak,” who, Cochran said, “has given testimony or evidence that is totally inconsistent with the theory of a lone assailant and is entirely inconsistent with the fact that Mr. Simpson is that assailant.” The Times columnist went on to report that, “When Cochran told the story in court, it was picked up by all news outlets, without going through the process of verification.”

“Simpson Case Forces Jail Renovation”

The headline on this blog post appeared on a Los Angeles Times August 3, 1994, story and explains the haiku I wrote the day before, which was:

A star defendant.

Poor jail accommodations.

Court ordered changes.


The problem was the rooms in the Men’s Central Jail, where O. J. Simpson was held were either too small to accommodate his “dream team,” which included the basic three–Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian and Bob Shapiro, augmented by Carl Douglas, F.Lee Bailey and a host of others , or  closed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, unless special arrangements were made which involved overtime pay for special guards.

The sheriff’s department, which operates the jail, said that renovations to enlarge the visiting rooms and install more intercoms, which would enable an inmate to speak to as many as four people at a time, were overdue. So Simpson just prompted what was already needed.

The L.A. Times article concludes with:

“Simpson is housed in a 9-by-7-foot windowless cell in the so-called “high-power” wing of the 6,500-inmate jail, where other residents have included Christian Brando [actor Marlon Brando’s son], Charles Keating and, currently, Erik Menendez.” [Erik Menendez and his brother Lyle were convicted in 1996 of the 1989 shotgun murder of their parents in their Beverly Hills home . I served as the L.A. courts media liaison on both trials. The first ended up with hung juries — although tried together, the brothers had separate juries — and the retrial. Fascinating times!]

Fielding an L.A. Times Query

Gorgeous weather can have a downside, at least it did for me yesterday.

I was out in it all day, so didn’t see this email until after dinner:

From: Stevens, Matt
To: Judge Lance Ito
Cc: Jerrianne Hayslett
Sent: Fri, Jun 13, 2014 4:09 pm

Judge, thank you for responding and looping in Jerrianne. If I have any further queries, I’ll be quickly in touch.

Jerrianne, if you have any input you’d like to share, please feel free to do so. We’re right up against deadline, so I’m not sure what we’ll be able to get in the paper. But we’d welcome your thoughts.

From: Judge Lance Ito

Sent: Friday, June 13, 2014 2:05 PM

To: Stevens, Matt
Cc: Jerrianne Hayslett

Matt:  The Simpson case is still a pending collection matter and the Canons of Ethics restrain me from responding.  You may wish to speak to Jerrianne Hayslett who was the court’s PIO at the time.

From: Stevens, Matt

Sent:  6/13/2014 10:42 AM

To: Judge Lance Ito

My name is Matt Stevens and I’m a reporter for the LA Times. I know you’ve been barraged by requests to speak about the O.J. trial over the years, and especially, I’m sure, within recent days.

We too have a story set to run tomorrow looking back. In it we discuss many of the lessons folks say were learned from the trial.

As you’re aware, some have accused you of running too loose a ship during that trial and keeping an eye on the cameras. “He would have celebrities in his chambers, and that didn’t look good,” veteran defense attorney Harland Braun told us.

We’d like to give you a chance to respond to those criticisms or comment generally on the case if you desire.

We’re on an immediate deadline, as the story is scheduled to run in tomorrow’s paper. But we’d love to talk with you if you are willing.



Even though the hour was late, I sent the following reply to Matt Stevens:

I’ve been out all day, Matt, and just saw this email. I’ll try to answer and hope it’s not too late.

I was in the courtroom every day of the Simpson trial and believe I had a good sense of what went on both in the courtroom and behind the scenes.

Re: Judge Ito’s courtroom management. He is a jurist who believes in allowing lawyers to put on their cases. When it became apparent that counsel in the Simpson trial were abusing the rein he gave them, he took measures to corral them. He fined them, sanctioned them, admonished them from the bench, chided them in chambers and issued written orders. One order, issued on April 26, 1995, titled “Attorney Conduct” addressed nine specific areas with specific instructions concerning their behavior and courtroom demeanor, including prohibiting “speaking objections” and reactions such as “gestures, eye rolling, head nodding, laughter, stage-whispered comments or any other conduct of reaction which is visible and/or audible to the jury.”

His intent for the cameras was that they provide the public a view of the trial that they had a right to see. He was not interested in being on camera himself and repeatedly asked the media not to focus on him.

Re: celebrities in chambers. Of the few, the most notable were Katie Couric, which was a Public Information Office staffer’s doing, and Larry King, which was my suggestion, primarily because Larry King had cooperated with two of Ito’s requests when no other member of the media did. Many, many others asked to visit him in chambers, but were denied. Some journalists who had not achieved celebrity status at the time, such as Jeffrey Toobin, did after submitting repeated requests.

Interestingly, although I was present in chambers when those and many other individuals visited the judge, to my knowledge Harland Braun was never in Ito’s chambers during that trial, so any information he believes he’s been privy to, is hearsay.

Thank you for contacting me and, again, I hope this will meet your deadline.

Jerrianne Hayslett

Matt was courteous enough to reply, even though I didn’t send my email until after 7:30 p.m., saying he wasn’t sure his update made, it but that he might contact me again if the Times does a follow.

The story, Simpson murder case brought change to LAPD, D.A.’s office, in today’s edition doesn’t appear to include my input, even obliquely.

Neither is it as castigating or derisive as other accounts have been over the years. It is disappointing, however, to know that the vast majority of the critics–even those in judicial circles–either have no first-hand experience or knowledge of the trial, didn’t read the transcript or lack objectivity, such as lawyers involved in the case and members of the media Ito kicked out of the courtroom for misbehaving, such as L.A. Times reporter Matt Stevens’ co-writer on this story, Gale Holland.

Ito’s court order, dated May 18, 1995,  which is on page 49-50 of Anatomy of a Trial says, in part, “The Court has received notes from two jurors complaining of noise created by two news reporters in the audience section of the courtroom. … Talking or whispering amongst audience members while court is in session is never acceptable behavior, especially when it interferes with the jury’s ability to hear the evidence. The court finds good cause to bar Kristin Jeanette-Meyers/Court TV and Gail [sic] Holland/USA Today from admission to Department 103.”

Even though I have long since left my position as the L.A. courts’ media liaison and no longer in the business of having to field media questions for the court or its judges, I think I’ll try to check email more often, even when outside in the sunshine when it’s nearly impossible to see my cell phone screen.

The Great Cookie Heist — That Wasn’t?

Yesterday’s post on this blog, “The Great Cookie Heist,” might be just one more example of “don’t believe everything you get from the Internet.” And a great reason why news organizations, and those touting/disguising themselves as such, should do original reporting instead of just playing the “telephone game,” or as some call it, “pass it on.”

I saw close to a dozen stories on the Web reporting O.J. Simpson’s great cookie caper, i.e. stuffing a dozen or so cookies — even giving the kind of cookies — in his shirt his sticky fingers had lifted from the Nevada prison cafeteria where he’s serving a lengthy sentence on armed robbery and kidnapping charges.

Now come reports saying it isn’t so. The Los Angeles Times, in a story headlined “Prison: O.J. Simpson not caught stealing cookies, oatmeal or otherwise“, went right to the source — or rather a source other than the one the National Enquirer quoted, which was an unnamed prison inmate and which the Enquirer‘s media parrots apparently took as gospel.

L.A. Times reporter Amy Hubbard got her info from a Nevada prison official, namely (OK, not the name of), “the public information officer for the Nevada Department of Corrections.”

“There is no validity to the reports that inmate Simpson was caught stealing cookies,” Hubbard reports the PIO as saying.

We’ll see if that puts an end to the story.

Out of the Ashes

He was a public information officer/publicist’s dream come true.

Born into wealth and privilege in the Dutch East Indies in 1945, his family lost it all when that colonized island group at the Equator gained its independence to become Indonesia, or so Patrick Couwenberg’s story went.

After his family moved to The Netherlands where he attended school and mastered five languages, young Patrick, who claims to have been born Patrick van Couwenberg de Blois Detris Long, moved to California where he changed his name to simply Patrick Couwenberg after learning that someone else was already using the name of Patrick van Couwenberg de Blois Detris Long.

In the Los Angeles area, an impoverished Patrick worked menial jobs, including scrubbing toilets at a college he attended, to pay for an education, which included a degree in physics at California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech).

Then followed two years of service in the U.S. Army, which included 16 months in Vietnam and a Purple Heart.

Resuming civilian life, he attended Loyola Law School, then LaVerne University School of Law where he earned a juris doctorate.

He entered my life in 1997 when he was one of several newly appointed judges to the Los Angeles Superior Court who were scheduled to participate in a formal enrobement ceremony.

As the court’s director of public information, I was charged with getting media coverage for the ceremony. My news release led off with Couwenberg.

The ceremony, and Couwenberg, received scant coverage — until a couple of years later.

That’s when a Los Angeles legal newspaper reporter called me. He had been assigned to do a profile of Couwenberg and had a problem. None of the information in my news release of four years earlier — he still had a copy — checked out.

My stomach clutched. But I had checked everything in advance with Couwenberg, so how could it have been incorrect? Couwenberg had not only confirmed all the information I had received from the ceremony master of ceremonies who had given me a copy of his script, he added more details.

“Oh, it gets better,” he had said about having to work his way through college. That’s when he told me that among his jobs was college janitor whose duties included scrubbing his fellow students’ toilets.

The reporter said that not only did Cal Tech officials say they had no record of him ever being a student, but that he could find no record of his military service, and that when the reporter asked Couwenberg about that, he said was because he served as a covert agent with the CIA during his service, so of course, since that would be classified, the reporter couldn’t find any record.

The upshot was the reporter contacted the California Commission on Judicial Performance, which conducted an inquiry complete with public hearings for which I was subpoenaed to testify — although thankfully wasn’t called.

The special hearing masters concluded that Couwenberg had lied about just about everything. His college degrees, his military service, even working as an undercover spy. He lied to the governor’s judicial appointments secretary about his qualifications.

In August of 2001, the Commission ordered that Couwenberg be removed from the bench, i.e. kicked out of his robe.

Here’s the link to a collection of Los Angeles Times stories chronicling the Couwenberg saga:


So why dredge all of this up now?

Because Couwenberg, who went on to lose his California bar license (PATRICK COUWENBERG – #70507, CURRENT STATUS:  NOT ELIGIBLE TO PRACTICE LAW (NOT ENTITLED)  http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/Member/Detail/70507), has become a poster boy of sorts for resume fabricators.

Here’s the headline and opening paragraph of a story last week in the Idaho Business Review:

Getting tough on resume fraud

by Denise McClure
Published: May 21,2013
Patrick Couwenberg was once a Los Angeles Superior Court justice. He had one very large problem: his resume bore very little resemblance to the truth. Every section of his resume contained lies – about his education, military service (a nonexistent Purple Heart), and work experience (a fictitious job as a covert CIA operative). Couwenberg was removed from the bench in 2001 amidst embarrassing public hearings. http://idahobusinessreview.com/2013/05/21/getting-tough-on-resume-fraud/#ixzz2U5Ass5l3

And here’s the link to a 2005 Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry Law article:

Pathological Lying Revisited http://www.jaapl.org/content/33/3/342.full.pdf

The article begins, “In August 2001, the State of California Commission on Judicial Performance ordered the removal from office of Judge Patrick Couwenberg for making misrepresentations to become a judge, continuing to make misrepresentations while a judge, and deliberately providing false information to the Commission in the course of its investigation.1 The judge had lied at various times to judges, attorneys, a newspaper reporter, and the Commission on Judicial Performance.”

And he got a mention last year in a “Judging the Judges” section of California Lawyer magazine:
“…egregious behavior, like Judge Patrick Couwenberg of Los Angeles County Superior Court, who in 2002 was found to have lied about his judicial credentials and service in combat.” https://www.callawyer.com/Clstory.cfm?eid=923320&wt.ad=923320%20%7C%20Judging%20the%20Judges
So what’s Patrick Couwenberg up to these days? Here’s what a little Internet searching turned up:


patrick couwenberg

January 2002 – Present (11 years 5 months)

Patrick Couwenberg, President

Couwenberg & Heene, A Professional Corporation
Geronimo Western Traders, Inc.
The one thing that didn’t happen, which I thought might. Apparently none of the losing sides contested the cases he presided over and ruled on during his four years on the Los Angeles bench.