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THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Ex-Juror Can Publish Book, Judge Decides : Trial: Court finds that a new law meant to curb profit-making in such cases does not apply to a panelist dismissed from the Simpson case in March.

May 23, 1995|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

A Los Angeles federal judge Monday issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting prosecution of a former O.J. Simpson trial juror who wants to make money by writing a book about his experiences on the panel.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real paves the way for Dove Books to publish next month a memoir entitled "The Diary of an O.J. Juror" by Michael Knox, who was dismissed from the Simpson panel March 1.

Real ruled that a state law making it a crime for jurors and ex-jurors to be paid for writing about their service until 90 days after a trial has concluded violates the 1st Amendment in the case of Knox--who left the Simpson panel before a conclusion could be reached. The statute remains intact, however, for those who remain on the jury.

Knox said he was "very happy" about Monday's ruling. "There are several things that I would like to say that I think would be important to the public," but he declined to discuss the book's contents in a press conference outside the federal courthouse after Real ruled.

However, Michael Viner, Dove's president, said the book will cover a wide range of topics, including a retort to dismissed Simpson juror Jeanette Harris, who has said in numerous interviews that the jury was divided along racial lines. "What Michael Knox has to say is a completely different point of view," said Viner.

Knox's memoir--for which he will receive an advance of about $100,000, according to a source--will be Dove's third Simpson-related book. Last fall, the Beverly Hills company published Faye Resnick's controversial "Nicole Brown Simpson: The Diary of a Life Interrupted," which became an instant best seller. More recently, Dove published "I Know You Really Want to Tell Me, but I Really Don't Want to Know," a retort to Simpson's "I Want to Tell You," the accused double murderer's response to letters he has received in jail. Dove's book was billed as "alternate answers and letters to O.J."

Dove attorney Pierce O'Donnell said Knox's book will explain why he was dismissed from the jury. According to sources, Knox was released for failing to disclose an incident of domestic violence that was more than a decade old.

O'Donnell said the book also will provide "an absorbing human account of the vicissitudes of sequestration, racism, the loneliness of being a juror--particularly in a celebrated case like this--relationships among jurors, the effectiveness of Simpson case lawyers and their arguments, whether jurors honor their oaths not to form opinions about the case," and other subjects. The attorney said Roy Innis, former national director of the Congress of Racial Equality, is writing an introduction to the book, which also will have a section urging reform of jury sequestration procedures.

Real ruled after a 90-minute hearing in which Dove and Knox challenged on constitutional grounds a statute enacted by the Legislature in August in response to the possibility that witnesses and jurors in the Simpson case would sell their stories. The statute makes it a misdemeanor for a juror to be compensated more than $50 for communicating any information about a criminal proceeding within 90 days of the discharge of a jury in a criminal case.

At Monday's hearing, O'Donnell and Santa Monica attorney Arthur H. Barens, who represents Knox, asserted that lawyers for the state and the county had failed to show that there was a compelling interest in abridging Knox's rights of free speech as a dismissed juror.

Real questioned the two lawyers sharply, noting that Knox could give interviews for free, as other jurors have done. Barens replied that Supreme Court precedents have held that an individual's free speech rights cannot be curtailed simply because he is being paid for what he says. "Altruism is not on trial today," Barens declared. "Free speech is on trial today."

O'Donnell said that since the Simpson jury is sequestered, there is no way that Knox's book could have a negative effect on the panel or its deliberations. He said the statute is overly broad and a product of "legislative overkill."

Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul Dobson and Assistant County Counsel Richard E. Townsend contended that the new law was needed to preserve "the integrity of the jury system." Townsend said "common sense" made it clear that the lure of making money from a book could influence a juror's conduct and compromise the jury process.

Early in the hearing, Real said he feared that "the integrity of the jury system may die with the Simpson case." But he also expressed considerable skepticism about arguments advanced by the government lawyers. He asked them several times whether they had any concrete evidence or studies to back up their assertions. The answer was no.

"Judge Real made a wise, circumspect judicial decision," O'Donnell said. "The state lost because Supreme Court precedents say you have to have concrete evidence of a real harm before a prior restraint will be granted. . . . The 1st Amendment trumped the state statute."

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