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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Lawyers Learn How to Say They're Sorry

March 17, 1995|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After weeks of name-calling, backbiting, finger-pointing, bickering and sniping, it all came to a head Thursday when Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito ordered the lawyers in the O.J. Simpson case, like disobedient schoolchildren, to apologize and abide by his Seven Commandments for decorous courtroom behavior.

In contrast to the rancor of the previous day's hearing, prosecutor Marcia Clark and Simpson defense attorney F. Lee Bailey--chastened by criticism--exchanged strained smiles and agreed to control their tempers. Or so they said.

Ito told Clark and Bailey, before the jury was brought in Thursday, that they went "beyond the bounds of professional conduct" Wednesday in a heated exchange regarding a defense witness.

"It would thrill me to death if counsel would apologize to each other for the rather high level of vitriol," Ito said. It was clear the judge would not proceed further until the attorneys complied.

"I'm sorry, Your Honor . . . I don't like to engage in that sort of exchange," Clark said. "I think it's unseemly. I think it's bad for the entire profession. And I do extend to Mr. Bailey my apology for the extreme nature of the exchange yesterday."

Bailey then apologized to Clark but saved his most gracious words for Ito. "In my view, you are one of the finest of trial judges I have ever had the privilege to appear before."

But in a trial in which courtroom theatrics have been taken to an unprecedented level, legal experts said they doubted that the attorneys would be able to resist taking shots at each other, especially when there is so much at stake and a national television audience is tracking every move. They scoffed at Ito's insistence that the lawyers apologize and follow his seven-point "attorney conduct," which prohibits eye-rolling, snickering, verbal assaults and other untoward tactics.

"Judge Ito began the trial by saying that the criminal justice system was on trial," said defense attorney Barry Tarlow. "Under his direction, it has flunked every test. These people think they are on stage to the world. They have their future careers at stake. . . . It's clear that every participant is playing to the cameras."

On Wednesday, the courtroom wrangling was especially bitter. Out of the presence of the jury, Clark and Bailey clashed over whether Bailey had spoken on the telephone with potential witness Max Cordoba, a black former Marine sergeant who this week accused LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman of using a racial slur.

The two attorneys clashed again when Bailey wanted to display in court a leather glove in a plastic bag. Bailey said the defense would argue that Fuhrman could have placed a bloody glove in such a bag and carried the package in his sock to Simpson's home.

But responding to Bailey's request, Clark vigorously protested and injected a personal jab at the attorney. Clark pointed out that the gloves found at the crime scene and Simpson's home were extra large, and noted that the one Bailey proposed to show the jury was much smaller.

"Size small," she said. "I guess it's Mr. Bailey's."

Bailey retorted: "Let me state very clearly . . . that if Miss Clark thinks that hand and this glove would ever work together, her eyesight is as bad as her memory."

Ito issued his code for courtroom conduct Thursday morning.

In the two-page order to the attorneys--an action legal experts termed highly unusual--Ito outlined his rules: No reaction of any kind to any of the proceedings. This includes gestures, head nodding, laughter and stage whispers, Ito wrote.

No "gratuitous, personal attacks" would be tolerated, wrote Ito, who footnoted the glove comments to illustrate his point.

Ito also reminded the attorneys to get to work on time. "Court hours begin at 9 a.m. and again at 1:30 p.m," Ito wrote.

And Ito made it clear he was not in the mood for back talk. When Clark started to argue again Thursday about the credibility of defense witness Cordoba, Ito stopped her in mid-sentence.

"Miss Clark, forgive me for interrupting you, but given the state of the record as we know it today, given the level of the comments yesterday, which were not appropriate, I think it would be appropriate to begin this session by both sides acknowledging going beyond the bounds of professional conduct," he said.

"I only ask that of you first because you're standing and talking to me," he added. "I'm going to ask the same of Mr. Bailey as soon as I hear from you.

Clark, although reluctantly, apologized to Bailey and told Ito that the incident would not happen again. "I think that we will all, from this day forward, conduct ourselves as professionals, seasoned professionals that we are," she said.

Bailey told the judge: "I without hesitation apologize for what I have found was an unwarranted comment directed at Miss Clark, and that was that her eyesight and memory were deficient. Very plainly that was unfair, since her eyesight is excellent and her memory has proven to be the same."

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