The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson.
Jeffrey Toobin has written an excellent summary of the extraordinarily bungled criminal trial of O.J. Simpson. The book should be required reading for law students because it ranks with Louis Nizer's The Implosion Conspiracy as sound evidence of how not to try a case. The book offers repeated examples of poor judgment or, alas, no judgment.
The Simpson case is not "the trial of the century"; however, it may be "the tragedy of the century." Toobin forces the conclusion that every actor in this tragedy suffers from a flawed character.
Toobin explains that the tragedy really began in the late 1930s when the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) succeeded in having legislation enacted that made it virtually impossible to fire cops. Moreover, Toobin points out the department would decide for itself who was to be its leader, as the law provides. In 1950, William Parker became chief and promptly modeled the force on the U.S. Marine Corps. The practical effect was that the police became "an army of occupation for those in the city who did not share Parker's ethnic heritage."
When Daryl Gates became chief in 1978, the number of black victims of the LAPD increased. Toobin lists a significant number of racial incidents that could only have alienated the black community from the LAPD and the criminal justice system.
It is noteworthy that Simpson's attorney Johnnie Cochran, who served as an assistant district attomey early in his career: was active in reining in the department's misconduct. By the 1980s, Cochran had discovered there was big business in LAPD misdeeds, and he became a regular at the criminal defense bar, charging the police with excessive force.
On June 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were brutally murdered. The LAPD swung into action. Once the identities of the victims were known, the investigating officers went to O.J. Simpson's home searching for him, purportedly because of fear for his safety. This sounds highly improbable, as it is common wisdom that, when a spouse is murdered, the other is often responsible.
Moreover, Detective Mark Fuhmlan, who was on the scene, had once visited the home in response to a domestic violence complaint. Despite what police officers knew, they chose to scale the fence when no one came to the door. It is this judgment that gives rise to the first complaint that Simpson's Fourth Amendment rights were violated. More complaints, especially concerning the handling of evidence, would follow, especially when the detectives offered explanations of their actions that were simply not credible.
Simpson's flaws need no elaboration. For years he had a physically and emotionally abusive relationship with his wife. On one occasion he was ordered to have therapy but did not comply. It appears from the book that Simpson was insanely jealous and likely thought that if he could not have his wife, no one could.
Next in this drama come Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. At trial, Clark and Darden are petulant, arrogant, and often rude to the judge and opposing counsel. Cochran is an expert at baiting the prosecutors, but had they been more experienced, they would not have taken the bait.
About the "dream team." An easy conclusion that could be drawn from the book (but not Toobin's conclusion) is that Simpson could have saved a lot of money by relying on Barry Scheck and Peter Neufield. He did not need much more help. Each knew his subject matter better than anyone else on the team, and their behavior appeared acceptable.
The other team members--Cochran, Robert Shapiro, and F. Lee Bailey--had so much ego involved in the proceedings that in the end they were not speaking with one another. One wonders how they decided the simplest trial stratagems.
The trial did not present a pretty picture, but the ultimate responsibility for the fiasco falls on the shoulders of Judge Lance Ito. From the beginning, he failed to control the courtroom, permitted scores of lawyers on both sides to speak on different issues, and exhibited a deference to Cochran, whom he had reportedly worked with in the District Attorney's Office.
It appears that he, like almost everyone else involved, let himself get star struck. He was obsessed with the media. During the time he was considering the admissibility of the domestic violence evidence, Ito invited Larry King, King's executive producer, and King's daughter to visit his chambers. What follows is almost incredible.
During a mid-morning break, King and the other two appeared in Ito's chambers. Ito talked about the domestic violence evidence and told the group, "[I]t's hearsay. I can't let it in." The trial lawyers had not yet been informed, but Larry King was advised of the intended ruling.
This is an excellent book that helps underline the deficiencies in the criminal justice system. I highly recommend it.
However, there is a matter with which I take issue. Toobin suggests that in the early 1960s F. Lee Bailey legitimized the practice of criminal law. I know he is in error on this point because my late former partner Edward Bennett Williams performed that service in the 1950s. I know; I was there.
Vincent J. Fuller practices with Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C.
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|Author:||Fuller, Vincent J.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1997|
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