OJ Simpson Saved Lives! (Part One)

I know. Crazy title. Don’t worry, I’ll get to it.

The O.J. Simpson case(s) have had a huge impact on American society, particularly the legal system, and on me personally, over the past two decades. Most recently, A&E aired an excellent piece about his cases, the trials, and the legal work that was done behind the scenes, called O.J. Speaks: The Hidden Tapes (apparently there was another show on LMN, which I did not see, but will make a point of looking for it.) I predict that a lot of people watched or will watch these shows. If you haven’t yet, you should. Try here. They speak volumes about the anatomy of an actual murder case and describe in detail some extremely good (and bad) lawyering. This is real life murder mystery at its best — and worst.

I realize that I tend to personalize these things, but with this case it is impossible to ignore. I have so many personal connections to it. Last Saturday night, my wife and I were visiting our baby girl (now 27) in L.A., where she works as a TV editor. When something came up at the last minute we found ourselves alone with no plans on a weekend night in Tinsel Town. As we were preparing to go out exploring I made the mistake of flipping on the TV and came upon the A&E show by chance.

Forget it. A few minutes in and we were hooked. So hooked that we decided to forgo a fun-filled night on the town and instead were riveted for the next several hours, absorbed in a crime drama that exceeds anything Hollywood could have come up with. Except this case could not be much more L.A. — I mean that Kardashian mom was one of the real life stars of the show!

There are so many angles and issues to this that there is no way I can review it all in one post. It has it all: Movie Stars, Beautiful People, Future Reality TV Personalities, Shoddy Police Work, Brilliant and Lame Lawyering, the Innocent Pretty Boy Victim. You name it, it’s there. It is hard to know where to begin.

I remember thinking how athletic Nicole’s legs were, like a serious sprinter… …it occurred to me that anyone who was able to do the horrible things that were done to her must have been really strong. Like a former NFL running back, maybe.

So, as usual I will begin with me. I can’t help it. It gives the trolls something to troll about when they call me a self-absorbed moneygrubber or whatever. But I’m not talking about being in that hotel room Saturday night, lost in our TV. No, instead I’m going to begin with the time when our 27 year old was a little 6 year old girl — a few weeks before the murders, and my family and I were flying down to Cabo with O.J. and Nicole and their kids, a trip which Ms. Kardashian even mentions on the show.

The Kardashians, young innocent Kim and all, were probably on that flight too. Of course I wouldn’t have recognized them since nobody had ever heard of them yet. It is not as it sounds: We weren’t traveling with them. We were just on a plane to go to a friend’s destination wedding. But when we took our seats way back with the peasants in Economy, I looked up and there he was: O.J. Simpson, large as life, up in First Class, beaming like a god, Budweiser in hand, somewhat ironically, with Nicole at his side and the kids eating animal crackers.

They looked like an ideal fairy tale L.A. power couple, one of the first aspects of this case that merits attention, because it has a lot to do with how O.J. ultimately may have saved lives when he subsequently butchered Nicole and Ron Goldman. That’s because his charm and smiling face betrayed the inner workings of a deranged domestic abuser and killer, something which is now argued in virtually every domestic violence case in America. The more reasonable and personable the person (i.e. man) being accused is, the more the “victim advocates” invoke the ghost of Nicole, arguing that, just like O.J., nice guys can secretly be dangerous killers (and probably are).

I remember thinking how athletic Nicole’s legs were, like a serious sprinter. I know that sounds horrible, but it’s a true story, so I might as well tell the truth. She was a very impressive looking woman, but in a strong way, someone I remember being able to imagine fighting back valiantly against her attacker when the news of her murder came out a short time later. It occurred to me that anyone who was able to do the horrible things that were done to her must have been really strong. Like a former NFL running back, maybe.

News of that murder also came at a time of great personal significance for me. We had just buried my mom, in June of 1994, when we all gathered back at the family home after the funeral and someone switched on the TV (funny how TV is such an important part of this very L.A. case). There was O.J., driving in slow motion, in his white Bronco, along the freeways and under the crowded overpasses of Tinsel Town, people lined up all along the way, waving and cheering. It was beyond surreal.

The memory I have of my grieving father, who had just buried the love of his life, sitting there staring at his hero slowly rolling into a nightmare that had barely begun to unfold, will stay with me forever. It was just all so sad and odd.

Petrocelli did some amazing work here… …he apparently had no background whatsoever in criminal law; he was a business lawyer. How Goldmans found him is beyond me. But it was a stroke of genius.

This is where my analysis of good and bad lawyering begins. I will have a lot to say about this, so please bear with me. Let’s begin with that vacuous nobody, Robert Kardashian. I know it is not good to speak ill of the dead, but this is about legal skills, not a TV personality contest.

Kardashian was making a serious rookie mistake. He was reading a long rambling diatribe, apparently written by O.J., talking about what a victim he was. Wrong. The minute you say that everyone thinks you are guilty. Even if it is true, when you talk like that no one wants to hear it. Usually. Of course there was nothing usual about this case. It was to become the most bizarre and controversial murder trial in modern American history. All, of course, about to unfold on national TV on a daily basis for months on end.

I remember “screaming” at the TV (something I frequently do when watching legal shows) that he should sit down and shut up. He was digging such a deep hole, broadcasting how O.J. felt so sorry for himself, just like a killer might. But instead of making everyone think O.J. was guilty, a rift began to develop that grew over the coming year, where huge segments of the population were divided over whether or not he was guilty. Ultimately, it developed into a largely racial divide; not surprisingly, which is yet another one of so many issues in this case that it becomes impossible to keep track of them all. So, let’s stick to the lawyering.

The star of A&E’s show was undoubtedly Dan Petrocelli; the lawyer who took over and handled the Goldman family’s wrongful death civil law suit against O.J. after the criminal jury ultimately acquitted him of murder. I cannot say enough good things about this guy. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what side he was on; it never does and never should. It’s all about the work.

And Petrocelli did some amazing work here. Not to mention he basically did it for free. It’s really quite incredible. He apparently had no background whatsoever in criminal law; he was a business lawyer. How Goldmans found him is beyond me. But it was a stroke of genius.

This is why everyone needs to find these shows and watch them, especially lawyers. You might learn something. I know I did. And the first thing I learned is that there is so much going on with this case (actually something I already knew) that there is no way I can cover it all in one piece.

Hopefully I have sparked some interest here and persuaded at least a few people to watch these shows. For now I am going to sign off and work on preparing a more organized approach to reviewing the significant issues raised in these trials, both the criminal and civil. It really is worthy of being a law school class on just about every aspect of trial work that exists, which is why I want to take my time.

This is just a preview of things to come. There is a lot to cover…


Originally published at www.seattlecriminallawyerblog.com on October 15, 2015.