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Scene Draws Few Hawkers, Gawkers

Ambience: Turnout for start of Simpson civil trial attracts mostly media workers.


Two T-shirt hawkers showed up, along with a few looky-loos from out of state and a muscle-bound guy pitching his "bodyguard service to the stars."

But otherwise, few spectators bothered to turn out for O.J. Simpson's civil trial Tuesday.

Instead, a swarm of reporters and camera crews served as the main attraction, tripping over each other on the browning lawn of the Santa Monica courthouse as they pursued attorneys filing silently into the building.

The gag order in the case muzzled all participants, so reporters did the next best thing: they interviewed each other.

A reporter from the staid BBC radio interviewed a correspondent for glitzy E! Entertainment Television, then the two exchanged roles.

"O.J. and the others have been made fascinating by people like us," said Peter Boes of the BBC. "We're fascinating."

To be sure, a handful of devoted stalwarts from Simpson's criminal trial two years ago returned to press their messages during the civil case, dubbed "O.J. by the Sea."

Artist Rodney Vanworth displayed a mural depicting two bodies and a knife, a reference to murder victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. "Melrose" Larry Green spent the day shouting insults about Simpson to anyone who would listen. And Ozell Roberson arrived in his aqua blue Cadillac Coupe de Ville, plastered with pictures of the victims and blaring speeches by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. over a loudspeaker.

"If O.J.'s a celebrity, why can't Nicole be a celebrity?" Roberson asked. "We need to focus on victims."

A crop of Simpson legal heads also returned for a repeat performance.

Loyola law school professor Stan Goldman showed up to do an interview with Court TV and ended up speaking with other news crews.

Attorney Leo Terrell and retired judge Burton Katz did a point-counterpoint bit for an "American Journal" promo, chuckling when they had to stop because of a goof with the cameras.

"I can't believe it," Katz said. "We had the greatest shtick going."

Sprinkled among the media were the inevitable entrepreneurs. Among them was a weightlifter named "Sampson," who handed out business cards for his bodyguard service.

"The violence is out there," said Sampson, who claimed Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan as clients. "You might as well have the best."

But from a businessman's point of view, the small crowds were a disappointment.

Jamie De Matoff of Encino, who sold almost 200 T-shirts on the first day of Simpson's criminal trial, barely sold a dozen Tuesday.

"Bad day, buddy," De Matoff said, hoping sales would pick up Friday when Simpson is due in court. "I'm crossing my fingers. I've got a lot of merchandise."

De Matoff printed up a special T-shirt for the media that says, "Camp O.J. II: The Sequel," with a list of all the news organizations covering the trial.

Seventy-two news organizations asked for seats in the courtroom, seven more than during the criminal trial, court officials said.

News vans and satellite trucks lined the curb outside the courthouse, and trailers filled a section of the Rand Corp. parking lot across the street from the courthouse.

"You have all this media out here looking at each other and the substance of the trial hasn't even started," said Steve Gendel, senior correspondent for "American Journal." "Somebody is still very, very interested."

Throughout the day, Santa Monica police officers mingled among the small crowd.

The Police Department had pledged to arrest street vendors but officers were politely warning hawkers to refrain from selling their goods.

"It's pretty mild," Santa Monica Capt. Tom Mapes said of the scene. "We were worried there'd be more demonstrators. We didn't want to have a circus atmosphere."

The absence of a circus outside the courthouse could not dampen the enthusiasm of Sharon Purvis, who drove 33 hours from Louisville, Ky., to see the case.

Purvis also attended the criminal trial. She arrived at the Santa Monica courthouse carrying photos of herself with Judge Lance A. Ito, who presided over the first case, and Simpson lawyer Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. And she followed the press corps around with a small camera of her own to record the scene.

"I want to be a paparazzi," Purvis, 49, admitted. "I'm not real proud that I have such an interest in the case."

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