The judge in the O.J. Simpson murder trial Tuesday denied the football great's attorneys the right to review a police detective's military records, saying there was nothing in the 20-year-old documents relevant to the case.
Meanwhile, news organizations and the ACLU challenged a proposed gag order that could halt virtually all public discussion of the case by the parties closest to it.
In an order completed Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito said he had reviewed the military records of Detective Mark Fuhrman and found "no reports or other information relevant to the issues in this case." Among the records that Ito said he reviewed were Fuhrman's military personnel file, his medical records and his unit diary.
Ito's decision was a significant victory for the detective, who has been accused of racism by Simpson's attorneys but who has battled back, hiring his own lawyer and fighting defense requests for his personnel and military records. His attorney, Robert H. Tourtelot, argued in motions and in court that there was nothing embarrassing in Fuhrman's military files but that allowing Simpson's lawyers to review them was an invasion of the detective's privacy.
Ito said in his order that he had balanced the detective's privacy rights against Simpson's right to gather evidence for his defense. After doing that, Ito said, he decided against releasing the military records.
Instead, he ordered them sealed and placed in the court file, to be used only in the event that Simpson's attorneys appeal his decision. Ito did not rule on the defense's request for Fuhrman's police personnel records.
Defense attorneys also are seeking personnel records for three other detectives--Tom Lange, Philip L. Vannatter and Ron Phillips--all of whom played important roles in the Simpson case. Ito did not rule on those requests Tuesday.
Though defense attorneys want records for all four officers, they have launched their most aggressive attack on the integrity of Fuhrman, who said he found a bloody glove outside the Simpson mansion hours after the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.
A local television station reported Monday that Fuhrman had been reassigned to desk work and quoted his attorney as saying that Fuhrman was upset by the move. According to LAPD spokesman Cmdr. David J. Gascon, however, that report is inaccurate.
"He's still working with the West L.A. homicide unit," Gascon said. "He is on vacation, and when he gets back he will still be a detective. He enjoys the full respect, support and admiration of the chief of police and the management staff of the Los Angeles Police Department."
Gascon added that senior members of the department met with Fuhrman to discuss whether he would prefer to be moved to other duties until the furor surrounding the Simpson case subsides. If Fuhrman asks for such a move, his supervisors would be inclined to grant it, Gascon said, adding that there are no plans to transfer Fuhrman against his will.
Meanwhile, eight news organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union prepared to appear in court this morning to challenge a proposed protective order that the judge distributed to some attorneys in the case Monday but declined to release to reporters or lawyers representing news organizations. The media companies filed a brief Tuesday arguing that Ito's proposed protective order, a copy of which was reviewed by The Times, is too broad and unfairly denies the public access to the trial.
"There is no sufficient justification for a blanket protective order in this case because release of the information sought to be restrained will not prevent the selection of an impartial jury in his case," states the motion on behalf of news organizations, including The Times. "Moreover, even assuming that some limited protective order was warranted, the proposed blanket protective order is impermissibly overbroad, in violation of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution."
That motion, drafted by attorney Kelli L. Sager, adds that although the Simpson case has attracted unusual publicity, it is not the first to do so.
"Certainly there has been widespread media attention to this case, but it is hardly unprecedented," Sager said in her brief. "In numerous other cases, involving such high-profile defendants as Sirhan Sirhan, Charles Manson and the alleged Watergate conspirators, there has been widespread publicity--even including disclosure of such potentially prejudicial information as one defendant's supposed intention to plead guilty, and a videotape of one defendant purportedly committing a criminal act--yet the reviewing courts nonetheless found that an impartial jury was selected and a fair trial conducted."
ACLU attorneys did not file their motion Tuesday, but announced that they too intend to be in court today to object to Ito's proposed gag order.