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THE SIMPSON TRIAL AFTERMATH : Appearance of Fairness Vital to U.S. Justice System, Reno Says

October 13, 1995|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Janet Reno said Thursday that in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson verdicts she will recommit herself to making the criminal justice system "as fair as I can, and make it appear to be fair"

While saying that "one jury verdict should not reflect on a whole system," Reno remarked on the debate raging across the nation about the fairness of the verdicts and the factors underlying them.

Her comments are the closest the nation's chief law enforcement officer has come to directly commenting on the case, which captured the attention of the nation.

At her weekly meeting with reporters, she was asked whether she was surprised by "this apparent racial gulf" of opinion about the fairness of the justice system to blacks and whites.

"For 15 years as a prosecutor in Dade County [Fla.], I dealt with the issue of how you make the system fair and then, as importantly in many instances, how you make it appear to be fair," Reno said.

"I use this verdict as an opportunity to recommit myself to doing what I've been trying to do for a very long time--make the system as fair as I can and make it appear to be fair," she said.

In 1980, when she was Dade County state's attorney, Reno's office failed to win the convictions of four white police officers who were charged in the beating death of a black insurance salesman, Arthur McDuffie. Those verdicts touched off widespread riots in Miami's black neighborhoods but Reno met with representatives of the black community and listened to their complaints, managing finally to convert calls for her resignation to expressions of support.

Speaking of the Simpson case, Reno said: "When a jury returns a verdict, there are going to be some that are disappointed and others who are happy," Reno said. "And one jury verdict should not reflect on a whole system.

"There are judges and prosecutors, public defenders and police officers who day after day do their jobs in a magnificent way--being fair, giving the appearance of firmness and fairness that is so important and also trying to reach out to solve so many of the nation's problems that end up in the court system, whether it be drug abuse or youth violence, " Reno said.

Reno cautioned that any examination of the nation's criminal justice system should not be restricted to the Simpson case.

"I think it's important that we look at the system as a whole and look at the countless cases that are tried in state courts and in federal courts across the nation, that we do everything we can to make the process fair and . . . to make it appear fair," she said.

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