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THE SIMPSON LEGACY / LOS ANGELES TIMES SPECIAL REPORT : Trial & Error: FOCUS SHIFTS TO A JUSTICE SYSTEM AND ITS FLAWS : Weighing the Necessity of Change : How One Case May Reshape Criminal Justice in America : The D.A. / "It's like a death in the family."

October 08, 1995

While the LAPD has attempted to maintain a business-as-usual facade in the days since O.J. Simpson's acquit tal, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has openly agonized over its loss.

The pain of losing another big case the office expected to win is too fresh, and many prosecutors still cannot fathom how--after nine months of trial--the Simpson jury returned a not guilty verdict in less time than it takes to have a long lunch.

"It's like a death in the family," said Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman, the elder statesman of the Simpson prosecutorial team. "I've gone through numbness, disbelief, anger. It really hurts."

In an interview two days after the verdicts, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said that a few hours after Simpson's acquittal, he walked among his deputies on the 17th and 18th floors of the Downtown Criminal Courts Building "because I just sensed it's a time for the boss to be seen."

What he saw, he said, was that the verdicts had delivered "a body blow to everyone in the office. It hurt. There was pain involved, real pain."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Yochelson, who along with Hodgman coordinated the efforts of the Simpson prosecutors, said, "I think there is a dispiriting effect." Most of the office's lawyers, he added, "routinely prosecute cases equally as serious as this one every day in anonymity and only with the most basic of resources."

"This case stood as a symbol to many of all of the other cases being prosecuted in this county. Therefore, the loss is felt by everybody."

Some observers have predicted that by failing to stem his agency's string of losses in high-profile cases, Garcetti has placed his political future in jeopardy. The chief prosecutor has been criticized for what some in his office call "micro-management" of the Simpson prosecution.

Moreover, some of those demoralized deputies described by Garcetti and Yochelson have privately suggested they have lost faith in their boss, accusing him of mismanaging the case.

Some have gone further. In recent weeks, according to well-informed sources within the office and Downtown political circles, groups of deputies have organized to solicit candidates to run against Garcetti when he seeks reelection in March. One of those approached was prominent criminal defense attorney Gerald L. Chaleff, a former president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. who briefly worked as a prosecutor early in his career. But Chaleff is not interested in the proposition, sources say.

Other deputies hope to draft Robert C. Bonner, a former federal district judge, U.S. attorney and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. He is now a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, one of the city's largest law firms. Garcetti is well aware of the political threat he faces. "Somebody's going to try to take advantage," he said.

At a glitzy, $500-a-ticket political fund-raiser in Westwood two nights after the verdicts, Garcetti intimated that the worst-case scenario for his reelection would be if, on top of the Simpson outcome, Lyle and Erik Menendez were acquitted in their retrial, which began last month in Van Nuys.

The brothers have admitted killing their parents in Beverly Hills in 1990. But two juries deadlocked on first-degree murder charges against them after hearing defense evidence that the pair were in fear for their lives after enduring years of psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of their wealthy parents.

That inconclusive result is often cited by critics who say the district attorney's office cannot win the "big cases."

Also cited are the 1990 acquittals, after five years of criminal proceedings, of Peggy McMartin Buckey and her son Ray in what became known as the McMartin child molestation case; the acquittals of three LAPD officers who were videotaped beating Rodney G. King, verdicts that sparked three days of riots, and acquittals on the most serious charges of three men videotaped attacking truck driver Reginald O. Denny during the riots.

Many former prosecutors are unusually critical of the agency's performance in the Simpson case, particularly because the prosecution involved 13 full-time and at least as many part-time lawyers--all of whom were working with what they termed "mountains" of irrefutable evidence against the former football star.

Vincent Bugliosi, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who successfully prosecuted the Charles Manson family for mass murder, said Garcetti heads an office "that can bring in a C-plus but not an A-plus" result, even though it has dedicated and hard-working trial deputies.

Beyond Garcetti's own future, many prosecutors believe that the Simpson acquittal has raised serious issues concerning their office's relationship to the criminal justice system, the LAPD and the public at large.

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