Nearly 20 years ago — January 1996, to be exact — Lance Ito leaned back in the black leather chair in his chambers, propped his feet up on his cluttered desk and clasped his hands behind his head.
“Well, Jerrianne,” he asked, “What do you think I should do with the rest of my life?” [Chapter 1, page 8, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson]
According to a NBC News “flashback” and other retrospectives marking the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal on two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and an unwitting acquaintance, Ronald Goldman who was indeed in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ito presided over 500, more or less, subsequent criminal trials, some with camera coverage.
This past January, 19 years after he quizzed me on what he should do with the rest of his life, he retired from the Los Angeles Superior Court. According to friends quoted in the NBC flashback, he’s having the time of his life and loving it immensely.
One thing he has not done and, to my knowledge, has no plan to do, is cash in on his fame or, as some think, infamy, the Simpson trial generated. No book with a million-plus dollar advance, which many of the trial principals did. No TV show, which he could have done and raked in a bundle of easy-street money. No rubber-chicken circuit with pricey speaking fees.
Nope, he just went to work, took home his judge’s paycheck and did his job.
“… close friends say the publicity from the Simpson case didn’t go to his head,” the NBC retrospective reported.
“‘He is so humble. It’s kind of amazing, considering the spotlight he got put in,’ said Sergio Robleto, the former commanding officer of the LAPD homicide unit who was also a detective.”
So why the public image that he was an incompetent star-struck celebrity wanna-be that began to dog him during the trial and has remained accepted truth ever since?
Three reasons, so far as I’m concerned.
(1) He was interviewed on a CBS TV-affiliate weeks before opening statements in the trial on a subject that had no connection with that or any other trial. The interview, however, was exploited by the station and violated every condition he required before he agreed to do the interview. That episode is detailed on pages 25-28 of my book Anatomy of a Trial.
(2) He didn’t make the TV camera maintain a static shot of the courtroom well and bench with no zooming or panning, which the media would have found boring and unable to maintain the kind of huge audiences that would watch more ‘dramatic’ coverage.
(3) He didn’t clamp down hard enough until well into the trial on cavorting lawyers who played to the media or on the few members of the media who misbehaved.
When he did, it just angered them all the more.
It is all history now. I’m glad Ito survived it all as well as he did and that he’s enjoying this new phase of his life.