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Potential Jurors May See Political Articles, Ito Says

October 29, 1994|JIM NEWTON and ANDREA FORD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Having cut off prospective jurors in the O.J. Simpson case from all media just days before the California elections, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito said Friday that he has directed his staff to compile campaign clippings so the panelists can vote intelligently Nov. 8.

That unusual step grew out of Ito's equally unorthodox order to prospective jurors in the case: Rather than simply avoid publicity about the Simpson trial, they must have no exposure to any media.

That is an admonition that many prospective jurors have had difficulty obeying but one that Ito has rigorously enforced. Friday, he bounced one prospective juror for listening to traffic reports on the radio and another because she said she had a television on while she was working around the house.

When one man told Ito that the bus he rode to work had a radio playing, Ito proposed a solution: "Go to the mall, go to the Sav-On, and get some earplugs."

But then it turned out that the man had watched the "Mickey Mouse Club" on television one day, enough to violate Ito's order. "I'm going to save you the trip to the Sav-On," Ito said, and excused the man from further service.

Many prospective jurors have complained that they find Ito's restriction frustrating, and one who was questioned Friday said she was especially troubled because of the approaching elections.

"I'm not happy," the outspoken 66-year-old Brentwood woman said, "because I want to vote."

Ito assured her, however, that he had directed his staff to work with The Times and the Daily News of Los Angeles to compile a booklet of all stories related to state and local campaigns, starting with the coverage on Oct. 20, two days after he imposed the admonition. Ito credited Times columnist Bill Boyarsky with that suggestion, and it represents the judge's first acknowledgment that the Simpson case has distracted attention from the political races.

Simpson was arrested June 17 and has pleaded not guilty to the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman.

After a salacious book purporting to tell the story of Nicole Simpson's final months was released in mid-October, Ito ordered prospective jurors to avoid all media and to stay out of bookstores.

Ito has not said whether he will order jurors sequestered for all or part of the coming trial. Prosecutors support full sequestration, but Simpson's lawyers are opposed, fearing that isolation might attract different types of jurors than those who could serve if they were allowed to return home at night.

The Brentwood woman, whose candor impressed lawyers for both sides, warned Ito that she too believes sequestration would change the character of the jury: "What you're going to get are people who are lonely or who have very uninteresting lives," she said, adding that she would have great difficulty serving if it meant spending several months in a hotel.

In addition to the legal arguments regarding sequestration, it would add substantially to the cost of the trial, which, according to County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, already is among the most expensive in county history.

Figures released by Antonovich's office Friday show that the county has spent $912,140 on the case, exceeding expenditures for the Charles Manson or Sirhan Sirhan trials. The most expensive case in county history was the child-abuse prosecution of the McMartin family in the late 1980s.

Friday, some legal experts applauded Ito's promise to give prospective jurors information about state and local campaigns, a concession that might allow them to participate knowledgeably in the coming elections.

"I think it's a great idea that the judge is trying to find some reasonable accommodation to allow these people to be informed citizens at the same time that they are being asked to serve on this case," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola law school professor. "I've never heard of anything quite like this, but I give him a lot of credit."

In August, acting Secretary of State Tony Miller asked Ito to recess the trial on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 so that interest in the proceedings would not distract attention from the elections.

Ito denied that request without explanation, and instead scheduled an eagerly anticipated hearing for the day before the elections, ensuring that much media attention will be focused on the courtroom rather than the campaign on the final day before voters go to the polls.

At that hearing, Ito will decide whether to remove the television camera from his courtroom for the duration of the trial. News organizations filed a lengthy motion Friday opposing that idea.

Written by attorney Kelli L. Sager and filed on behalf of The Times and 13 other organizations, the motion argues that ending the TV coverage of the proceedings would do little to address Ito's concern about media excesses and would deny the public the chance to watch the celebrated case unfold.

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