Legal reasoning gave way to raw emotion in the O.J. Simpson trial Wednesday as prosecutors abruptly abandoned their bid to remove the judge and the defense accused them of trying to intimidate him.
An outraged attorney Robert Shapiro suggested that the prosecution’s aborted attempt to remove Superior Court Judge Lance Ito was “payback” for the judge’s brusque treatment of prosecutors in recent days as he prodded them to stop boring the jury.
“(This) amounted to prosecutorial extortion of the judiciary,” Shapiro said in court. “This is unethical conduct at its highest, and we will pursue all remedies that the law allows.”
He said prosecutor Christopher Darden should be reported to the State Bar for voicing displeasure with Ito’s rulings, complaining in an off-the-record chambers conference Wednesday morning that Ito was too harsh with prosecutors Brian Kelberg and Marcia Clark.
As each side accused the other of unethical conduct and threatened reports to higher agencies, Ito sat at the center of the whirlwind, determined to put the trial back on track.
“I am very concerned about the durability of this jury,” Ito said. “We need to proceed to a judgment by this jury.”
Moving beyond the issues that had him near tears Tuesday, Ito said he had decided, with agreement from both sides, that he would rule whether jurors should hear any of the tape recordings made of detective Mark Fuhrman spewing insults and ill will toward minorities.
But Ito said another judge must decide whether Ito’s wife, police Capt. Margaret York, is a material witness. If she is ordered to testify, Ito said he would step out of the trial.
Fuhrman reportedly denigrates York, who was his superior officer, on the tapes, but defense attorneys predicted York would not be forced into court.
The defense wants to use the tapes to show Fuhrman lied on the stand when he testified earlier this year that he had never used a particular racial slur in 10 years. The defense has accused Fuhrman of being a racist who planted a bloody glove on Simpson’s property to frame him.
The Fuhrman tapes, recorded by a North Carolina screenwriting professor over nine years of sporadic interviews with Fuhrman, have not been made public; by court order, access is restricted to a few attorneys. Not even Ito has heard the tapes or seen the transcripts.
Some details have come out, including claims that Fuhrman utters a racial epithet 30 times on the tapes and talks about police brutality.
But some of the attorneys are recalling what they read in transcripts imperfectly, said Ron Regwan, an attorney who represents professor Laura Hart McKinny. He would not be more specific about what was inaccurate.
Police Chief Willie Williams gathered reporters Wednesday to defend the honor of his department in light of the Fuhrman tapes. He said he doesn’t have access to the tapes and has been asked by District Attorney Gil Garcetti to postpone any investigation of Fuhrman until the Simpson trial is over.
Williams said he is confident there was no plot within the department to frame Simpson.
At the outset of Wednesday’s court session, Clark, speaking in a near whisper, announced that she had been in heated debate with members of her staff most of the night and finally decided to trust in the judge’s impartiality to decide what to do with the cache of explosive tapes.