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The Simpson Files

October 01, 1995

After 15 months of investigation, speculation, bombast and testimony, the murder case that riveted the nation is finally in the hands of the jury. Here is a collection of facts and tidbits of information at the center of the O.J. Simpson trial--and from its ever-intriguing fringes.


He's laughed. He's cried. He's whispered. He's shouted. And he's tossed out plenty of wisecracks from behind the imposing judicial bench. In a trial that has veered from the horrifying to the loony, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito has charmed many spectators with his prodigious knowledge and puckish wit. He seems to have a virtual hardware store tucked away behind the hourglasses lining his bench--he's always handing tape or Post-it notes or white-out to lawyers on both sides. And he has an amazing store of arcane facts at hand as well.

* When one witness brought up the subject of marathon running times, Ito commented: "The world's best is 2:06."

* When FBI Special Agent Roger Martz stumbled over the value of pi, Ito chimed in "How about 3.1214?" (Webster's Dictionary, however, lists the value of pi as 3.14159265+)."

* When confronted with testimony about a German river, Ito remarked that it was known as "the romantic highway."

* When one witness lamented the absence of a microscopic camera in the courtroom, Ito remarked that he would have brought his from home if he had been forewarned.

* Always eager to give lawyers advice--which usually boils down to "keep it short"--Ito sometimes joins in their banter.

* He frowned at rumpled prosecutor Brian Kelberg one day for coming to court in shirt sleeves, asking if his salary was so paltry he couldn't afford to buy a jacket.

* He waggled his eyebrows when defense lawyers paraded to the podium in sequence, each one proclaiming that a different issue was "the heart of our case." Ito commented wryly, "That's a many-hearted beast you have."

* He once reminded the lawyers of an old Chinese proverb: "Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it."

* On another occasion, Ito mocked his own importance, saying with a self-conscious sigh, "I'm just a poor trial court judge."


As opening arguments began in January, reporters from 48 news organizations jostled for prime seat assignments. Ito doled out space on the hard, pew-like benches lining his courtroom--forcing some rivals to share seats on alternate days. That seat-rotation scheme drew grumbles, but reporters were afraid to complain too loud. As Ito showed when he kicked out two reporters for gum chewing, renegades were not welcome in his courtroom.

So even as prosecutors whispered, defense lawyers swapped notes and jurors passed around candy, reporters tried hard to behave. They had to. Knowing that Ito could monitor every move with his "eye in the sky" security camera, they turned off their beepers, shut down their cellular phones and quelled the irresistible impulse to nudge colleagues during interminable sidebars.

Meanwhile, TV crews snapped gum with impunity at "Camp O.J.--the bristling compound of satellite dishes and broadcast platforms outside the now-closed county Hall of Justice. TV executives had chipped in $1 million to set up the high-tech campground. Swaying slightly in the breeze, the treehouse perches offered a scenic counterpoint to the dingy Criminal Courts Building.


It's not just an excuse. Many of us tried to defend our trial watching by exclaiming, "It's so educational!" Turns out, it wasn't just a line. Think of all the useful terms that have entered our vocabularies:

* Sidebar--Admit it. You used to think a sidebar was a handy place to stash drinks. Now you know it means the lawyers are going to get together with the judge and haggle about legal issues. Lawyers call for sidebars when they want to discuss topics or voice objections that the jurors aren't supposed to hear.

* Writ--Not just a Shakespearean-sounding past tense. Lawyers "take a writ" when they want to appeal judge's ruling to a higher court. For example, prosecutors sought (and received) a writ from the Court of Appeal overturning Judge Ito's decision to tell jurors that retired LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman was unavailable for further testimony, after Fuhrman had asserted his 5th Amendment right to remain silent.

* Sanction--When a country is sanctioned, it may mean it can't buy weapons. But when lawyers pick up sanctions, they had better open their checkbooks, pronto. Ito slapped on sanctions, or punishments, when the lawyers violated trial rules or did something to displease him. For example, he punished them for neglecting to turn over information to the other side--or for breaking his edict and giving interviews in the hallway outside his court.

* Redact--It's not as bad as it sounds...It's what Ito did to transcripts he did not want us all to see. A swipe of the black pen and he redacted the juicy stuff.

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