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Simpson Judge Moves to Control Information : Courts: Ito proposes barring all involved from publicly discussing evidence, documents. He threatens sanctions.

August 30, 1994|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With the murder trial of O.J. Simpson scheduled to begin in three weeks, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito took aggressive steps Monday to control information in the case, distributing a proposed order that would halt everyone connected with the investigation from publicly discussing evidence, documents or exhibits.

Although Ito declined to release his proposed order to the media, a copy reviewed by The Times makes it clear that he is angry about the continuing disclosure of information. In his proposed order, Ito cites two recent news reports in which evidence purportedly was disclosed, and he says he will bar any person connected to the case from leaking more information.

"A trial court not only has the authority but the affirmative duty to protect the right to a fair trial," Ito wrote. "In order to fulfill this duty, given the amount of media interest and coverage this case has ignited, the court must use its inherent authority to control the judicial proceedings."

Any violation of his order, Ito wrote, "will incur sanctions." He did not specify what the sanctions would be, but cited three California code sections that lay out some possible punishments. The sanctions include fining violators or holding them in contempt.

Ito also suggested in the proposed order that the Simpson case might be cause to "reconsider the wisdom" of rules that allow cameras and recording devices in courtrooms.

As part of his authority to control the court proceedings and to ensure a fair trial, Ito said in his proposed order that he wants all motions in the case to be filed under seal, adding that he would only release those documents when they are argued in open court. He had already imposed that requirement during a closed-door session with attorneys last week.

Ito is expected to hear arguments on the proposed order Wednesday and may finalize it then.

Some legal experts commended him for trying to gain control of the high-publicity case, but others said his move to seal all motions was objectionable and might be challenged by an appellate court.

"That seems pretty excessive," said Paul Hoffman, a Santa Monica criminal attorney. "I've been through the ropes on this many times, and I've never seen a judge try to say that every motion should be filed under seal."

Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed. "It's wrong," she said of Ito's proposed order. "I don't remember any judge imposing such a blanket gag order. It not only serves no purpose, it hurts the process. . . . I think in cases like this the public understanding of the court system is important."

The immediate impact of Ito's new clampdown on the release of legal pleadings was to prevent the disclosure of two important motions in the Simpson case filed Monday by the football Hall of Famer's battery of attorneys. One of those motions seeks dismissal of the case by arguing that the evidence presented during the preliminary hearing was insufficient, and the other asks that evidence seized during a search of Simpson's home be excluded if the case goes to trial, because police officers acted improperly in gathering it.

The conduct of officers in the search is one of several issues that Simpson's attorneys are contesting as they assert their client's innocence. He is charged with the murders of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, whose bloody bodies were found just after midnight June 12.

The hearing Monday morning represented the most aggressive attack yet on the integrity of the investigating officers in the case and is the latest signal of the defense's intent to challenge virtually every aspect of the proceedings against Simpson.

In the motion heard Monday, defense attorneys sought personnel records and other documents detailing the backgrounds of four key detectives in the case--Philip L. Vannatter, Tom Lange, Ronald Phillips and Mark Fuhrman. Vannatter and Lange are the lead investigators, and Phillips and Fuhrman were the first two detectives assigned to the case.

Defense attorneys are seeking any complaints filed against the officers and other material related to their LAPD performance.

But most of the argument Monday centered around Fuhrman, who said he found a bloody glove outside Simpson's Brentwood estate a few hours after the bodies were discovered. In addition to Fuhrman's personnel records, defense attorneys are seeking access to his Marine Corps file.

Members of Simpson's defense camp have accused Fuhrman of being a racist and of planting evidence in a previous case that involved an African American man shot by LAPD officers. They also have suggested that Fuhrman might have planted the glove in the Simpson case to be hailed for solving the crime.

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