YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

NEWS ANALYSIS : Simpson Case Leaks May Be a Source of Embarrassment : Courts: Police, prosecutors, media face scrutiny today as Ito hears defense bid to discover who released information.


Aggressive legal maneuvers by O.J. Simpson's defense team to probe "the source and purpose" of leaks in the double murder case may not get to the bottom of how controversial stories were generated, but it could prove embarrassing to the police, the district attorney's office, some members of the media and perhaps even the defense team.

Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has scheduled a hearing for this afternoon on a defense request that he move to identify media sources and take action to repair harm allegedly done to its client.

Among Ito's options are launching an investigation, requiring police officers or attorneys to testify under oath or sign affidavits about their dealings with the press, granting the defense special courtroom privileges--such as more challenges of potential jurors--or taking the highly unlikely steps of excluding evidence or dismissing charges because of prejudicial publicity. He also could issue a gag order.

Or he could do nothing.

"This is a very aggressive attack by the defense," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. "This could open up lives and destroy careers without having any legal significance to the case.

"The theme of the defense from the beginning has been to keep the attention away from O.J. Simpson and put the other side on trial so that by the time the jury hears the case, they'll tend not to believe anything the police say," Levenson said.

"This could be . . . embarrassing to a lot of people."

This week, the defense subpoenaed Cmdr. David J. Gascon, who is the Police Department's chief spokesman, and also summoned to court KNBC reporter Tracie Savage and KNBC general manager Carole Black. Defense sources also disclosed that they plan to subpoena two high ranking members of the district attorney's office.

On Thursday night, an LAPD spokeswoman said Police Chief Willie L. Williams, whom the defense also said it would subpoena, would not testify. Sources said Williams has submitted a sworn declaration, obviating the need for him to appear in court. The Police Department also announced that Gascon's promotion to deputy chief is still on track.

In a motion filed under seal last week, Simpson's attorneys said they wanted to determine "whether employees of the LAPD crime lab or any other members or agents of the LAPD . . . have been responsible for the deliberate disclosure to the media of confidential information or evidence, particularly false information."

"Those who deliberately leak false and highly prejudicial information on the eve of trial are capable of manufacturing false evidence against the defendant," the motion contends.

Simpson's attorneys filed the motion not long after Ito denounced media leaks, particularly a KNBC story that he branded as inaccurate and irresponsible. After that report aired, the judge threatened to pull the plug on live television coverage--a matter that is to be heard Nov. 7.

Today's hearing, prompted by the defense motion on leaks, drew mixed reactions from legal experts. Los Angeles defense lawyer Barry Tarlow said he was not surprised by the defense move, contending that Simpson had been the victim of "a drumbeat of leaked prejudicial information." Tarlow and several other attorneys said they were unaware of any leak inquiry during a trial that had yielded successful results, but that lack of success has not stopped some exasperated judges and litigants from trying.

For example, after a series of leaks last year in one of the cases stemming from the bombing of New York's World Trade Center, U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey ordered a number of law enforcement personnel from the FBI and other agencies to prepare sworn statements about any contacts they had with representatives of ABC, the New York Times or New York Newsday. The judge also required the law enforcement officials to describe any contacts they knew of between their colleagues and the news organizations.

Later in the case, the judge ordered defense lawyers to file similar sworn statements after information damaging to the prosecution was leaked to the media immediately after it had been turned over to the defense.

In both instances, no one admitted to being the source of the leaks and the judge was unable to discover the source, said New York defense lawyer Ronald L. Kuby, one of those who signed a declaration. "Notwithstanding the judicial terror tactics in our case, all the information was leaked and no one was punished," Kuby said.

Los Angeles Times Articles