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Attorney angrily defends handling of O.J. Simpson case

The current and former defense lawyers clash as the onetime football star seeks a retrial, claiming the attorney in his 2008 conviction was incompetent.

May 17, 2013|By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times
  • Former defense attorney Yale Galanter is shown a document in court. Galanter clashed with Thomas Pitaro over whether his handling of O.J. Simpson's case was incompetent.
Former defense attorney Yale Galanter is shown a document in court. Galanter… (Ethan Miller, Getty Images )

LAS VEGAS — Over a day of often-vitriolic cross examination, O.J. Simpson's former defense attorney faced a barrage of pointed challenges that his representation was so shoddy and even duplicitous that the fallen football star deserves a new trial in a 2008 robbery and kidnapping conviction.

Among the accusations hurled at Miami-based lawyer Yale Galanter: That he refused to hire experts to testify for Simpson in order to boost his own profits in the case and that he failed to adequately advise Simpson about a possible plea agreement offered by prosecutors.

Current Simpson lawyer Thomas Pitaro also charged that Galanter did not disclose to the criminal trial judge that he learned of Simpson's plan to retrieve his personal mementos the night before the September 2007 confrontation with two sports paraphernalia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room.

Galanter's testimony capped five days of proceedings that often focused on the depth and quality of legal defense provided to the Simpson, 65, who watched silently from a nearby table, dressed in a blue jail jumpsuit, surrounded by his new legal team.

Now it's up to Clark County Court Judge Linda Marie Bell to decide whether the disgraced college and pro running back deserves a new trial, invalidating a prison sentence of up to 33 years. If Simpson succeeds in getting the conviction reversed, prosecutors will then decide whether to retry him or offer a plea bargain. It was unclear when the judge will issue a ruling.

On Friday, two days after Simpson's testimony in which he poked holes in Galanter's legal performance, the dapper defense attorney took the stand, telling the judge he was uncomfortable in the situation — answering pointed questions rather than asking them.

He said he feared that the proceedings would force him to reveal privileged attorney-client conversations with Simpson, while Pitaro characterized Galanter as a preening lawyer mainly interested in rebutting previous testimony that slammed his legal prowess.

Galanter stressed that he represented Simpson to the best of his ability: "I put every ounce of blood, sweat and soul into it."

Lasting more than seven hours, the courtroom confrontation was often almost difficult to watch as the judge warned Pitaro to give Galanter his physical space and urged the two combatants to back down from face-to-face one-upmanship that had all the grace of a schoolyard brawl.

Pitaro — mustachioed, heavyset and looking grandfatherly as he fixed his thumbs in his suspenders — often loomed over the witness stand as he thrust documents forward for Galanter to read.

Time and again, Galanter clearly showed his impatience with Pitaro's strategy to portray him as a selfish and inept lawyer out for his own financial gain. He sat with his arms crossed, sighing and shaking his head. Often, the two men talked over one another, neither giving ground.

"That wasn't my question," Pitaro said at one point.

"That was my answer," Galanter snapped.

"Let me ask my question."

"Which is what?" Galanter said, eyes glaring.

Finally, Bell could take it no more. "Both of you stop," she said, sounding more like a grade school teacher than a court judge.

Pitaro suggested that Simpson got little in return for the $572,700 he paid Galanter for representation at the criminal trial and subsequent appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court.

At one point, Galanter told the court that he liked and respected Simpson and paid his own expenses to travel to Las Vegas to testify.

"I could afford it," he said.

"Probably," Pitaro shot back. "Some of the money was Mr. Simpson's."

Pitaro also questioned Galanter's advice that Simpson not testify at his trial, suggesting that the well-known athlete might have swayed the jury with his personality and frank explanation of the night he and six associates entered a $39-a-night room at the Palace Station Hotel to demand the return of a host of memorabilia.

A jury in 2008 heard that two members of Simpson's party drew guns, while Simpson has denied he knew any weapons were involved in the confrontation.

Galanter told the court he learned of Simpson's desire to retrieve the items the night before the hotel room confrontation occurred. While the two were at a hotel dinner with others, he said, the athlete said he and some "boys" planned a "sting." Galanter said he did not hear details but advised Simpson against it.

Pacing, openly smirking at answers he received, Pitaro suggested that Galanter should have recused himself as Simpson's attorney in the criminal case.

As he did for most of the day, Galanter recoiled in anger.

"If you're suggesting that Mr. Simpson here told me beforehand that he was going to go into a room with a bunch of thugs, holding people against their will, and that I blessed it, " he fumed, "that is ludicrous."

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