Tag Archives: news media

It Wasn’t Just Her Hair

A story headlined The Female Gaze: Marcia Clark in ‘People v. O.J.’ faces sexism in the courts and in the media which was published in Daily Titan, the student newspaper of my alma mater, California State University, Fullerton, perpetuated at least one media generated People vs. Simpson misperception involving Marcia Clark’s hairdos.

I had to respond, so here’s what I wrote:

As L.A. Superior Court’s director of public information & media liaison during the 1990s, and was present in the courtroom every day of Simpson’s murder trial, I feel compelled to address some points in this article.

Regarding “As soon as she entered the courtroom, all eyes were on her hair.”, that is not true.

As noted in this article, Marcia Clark had two young sons who needed childcare on weekdays. Clark asked Simpson trial judge, Lance Ito, for trial proceedings to begin later than the court’s regular start time of 8:30 a.m. so she could take her boys to childcare herself, rather than have someone else do so. Ito accommodated her request by taking care of other court matters at 8:30 and scheduling trial proceedings to begin at 9 a.m. For whatever reason, however, Clark was chronically late, sometimes by half-an-hour or more. Indeed, all eyes were on her when she entered the courtroom, but not because of her hair. In fact, one morning after she had assured Ito she would be there for a specific matter, she wasn’t. He delayed and finally, with an apology to the jury, said court would remain in session with everyone seated and wait for Clark to arrive. We did, in uncomfortable silence, for many minutes. I didn’t keep track of exactly how long, but it is reflected in the court transcript. Here is my account of Clark’s morning arrival routine as described in my book, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson http://www.anatomyofatrial….

“And her [Clark’s] late entrances, at times with an entire courtroom full of people—and, indeed, the entire television-viewing world—sitting and waiting, were just that. Entrances.

Rather than trying to be unobtrusive or quiet, she would shove the courtroom door open and prance in and down the tiled aisle with the clack of her spike-heeled pumps reverberating loudly in the otherwise silent surroundings. She would push through the little swinging gates in the rail and leave them flapping behind her as she crossed the courtroom well with the eyes of spectators, defendant, fellow attorneys, bailiffs, clerk, court reporter, judge and jurors following until she finally arrived, with no hint of apology in her body language, at her place at the counsel table, a bare arm’s reach from the jury box.”

Clark’s hair was an issue, not for trial participants, but for the news media and, I suspect, for District Attorney spokeswoman Suzanne Childs. Childs was much about appearance. Here’s another short excerpt from Anatomy of a Trial:

“Pulling me aside one day, Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti’s director of communications, Suzanne Childs, said that since the whole world was watching and forming an impression of the court and judge, she thought we should change out the florescent bulbs in the ceiling that were standard—and cast a rather harsh light—throughout the Criminal Courts Building and put in pink-tinted ones. Those, she asserted, would give the courtroom and everyone in it a softer look.”

I thanked Childs, but thought about the public outcry if the chronically underfunded court spent money on special lighting just for the sake of appearance when the media reported on it, which they would have.

It makes sense to me that Childs suggested that Clark change her hairdo, but I think it backfired. Had Clark not permed her hair in the midst of the trial, no one—either with the media or in the courtroom—would have even remarked about her hair, much less made it headline news.

MarciaClarkImage result for Marcia Clark's hairdos

I agree with this article’s assessment that unfair scrutiny is embedded in American culture, and is magnified and exacerbated by the media. I did a presentation years after the Simpson trial about how differently female attorneys in death penalty cases have been depicted in the news.

I was not immune. As you can see from my description above of Clark’s courtroom entrances I mentioned her clicking spike heels and what might be interpreted as “haughty” demeanor” (although in retrospect, she might have just felt self conscious).

And as a Cal State Fullerton alum who majored in communications/journalism, I learned from the best. –Jerrianne Hayslett

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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.

 

Choi Gets Ito

Kenneth Choi as Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance Ito in The People vs. O.J. Simpson miniseries is totally unbelievable to me, unless I close my eyes.

Except for the black hair, rimless glasses and facial hair, Choi looks no more like Ito than I, a Caucasian, brown-haired woman, do.

But Choi does capture Ito’s voice. He also either researched something other than the popular media-created image of Ito — maybe he read my book! — or managed to otherwise understand the no-win situation that crashed down on Ito well enough to develop a fairly accurate sense of what the judge was up against in the Simpson trial.

I learned that from a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter.

“According to the actor, though Ito has received a lot of criticism for the O.J. Simpson case, he has tried to stay impartial. ‘I can’t criticize or be judgmental of the person I’m playing,’ he said. ‘I have to do my best to understand him and what he does. I personally think he had the weight of the world on his shoulders as this sort of ringmaster in this circus played out on such a huge scale.’

“Though Choi admitted that the pressure on Ito ‘absolutely’ affected some of his decisions, he also pointed out that Ito was known to be a ‘very good, very smart, very fair’ judge.

“Asked whether or not he thinks that Ito’s decision about the Mark Fuhrman tapes affected the verdict, Choi answered, ‘I don’t know that it affected the outcome.’

“‘The jury heard the two snippets from the tapes, and I think that was enough,’ he explained. ‘The damage was done.'”

I do know this: Choi did not come to his conclusions by talking to Ito.

 

High Profile Doesn’t Include Victims

What makes a trial high profile? Why do so many people become obsessed with some trials and not others? Among the obvious answers can include celebrity, money, glamour, sex, racial issues, unusual and/or heinous aspects of the crime, and others.

All of that and more has been the topics of many court-media conferences and workshops I’ve attended and participated in and court-media courses and workshops I’ve conducted.

It occurred to me as I watched episode 3 of the FX dramatization of the 1995 Simpson trial that almost never are the victims in a case the reason a trial becomes one of great media interest. With rare exception, those who lost their lives or suffered because of the crimes the defendants are charged with committing become invisible in media coverage of trials.

Why is that, I wondered. My thought is it’s because the victims are not why large numbers of people are captivated by or even particularly interested in trials — and the media know that.

So what the media deliver is what they do know will result in high TV ratings and print circulation and that is sensationalism, whether generated by celebrity, or whatever.

To their credit, the Goldman and Brown families have crusaded to keep Ronald and Nicole in the public eye and consciousness. The families a many crime victims, despite tireless efforts, have not been as successful.

Where’s the Watchdog in this Arrangement?

Call me cynical, but how this differs from foxes guarding hens, I can’t fathom:

Scott Walker proposal would put Supreme Court in charge of Judicial Commission

And despite risking the sting of disdain from my relatively new state mates (I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 13 years, but not nearly long enough to be considered a true Wisconsinite, never mind that a great-grandmother was born and grew up here and her father, my great-great-grandfather is buried here), I’m sticking my foot in it by pointing to my former host state of California as an excellent model for all states’ judicial oversight/disciplinary bodies, even though it didn’t start out that way.

Initially, the California Commission on Judicial Performance had a majority membership of judges and was under the authority of the state’s Supreme Court.

The commission, the first in the country, was created in 1961 with a nine-member membership of five judges, two lawyers and two members of the public and powers to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct. While the commission could recommend the removal or other discipline of a judge, the Supreme Court had the final say on any such recommendation. Also, commission proceedings leading to its recommendations were held in secret.

Two decades ago, the commission underwent some radical changes. Voters approved a statewide proposition that increased commission membership to 11 of three judges, two lawyers and six public members. Other changes mandated “open hearings in all cases involving formal charges, the amendment conferred the authority for censure and removal determinations upon the commission, rather than the Supreme Court, and transferred the authority for promulgating rules governing the commission from the Judicial Council [which is chaired by the state’s Chief Justice] to the commission.”

Another plus is that commission appointments was not a monopoly held by any one person or body. Of the current 11 members, three were appointed by the state Supreme Court,  four by the governor, two by the state Assembly speaker and two by the state Senate Rules Committee.

I don’t know specifics, but during my time with the Los Angeles Superior Court from 1991-2002, my understanding was that the number of investigations increased, commission proceedings were reported in the news media, the commission took more disciplinary actions and public confidence in the commission increased significantly.

Given that experience, Wisconsin would do well to adopt something similar, although in the current climate of consolidating power and control at the center, that is about as likely as foxes being great hen house cops.

How great it would be if that other would-be watchdog, the news media, would point that out.