As O.J. Simpson heads for trial this week on murder charges, an extraordinary and apparently irreparable breach has developed between two of his lawyers: Robert L. Shapiro and Shapiro’s former mentor, F. Lee Bailey.
The feud, which will be left to a third member of the defense team, Johnnie Cochran Jr., to referee or resolve, is an embarrassing distraction, becoming public only four days before opening statements, scheduled for Thursday.
It stems from the results of an internal investigation into disclosures to the press conducted by Simpson’s main investigator, William Pavelic of Los Angeles.
Pavelic concluded and reported to Simpson and other members of his legal team that for the past several months, Bailey and his associates had engaged in a systematic and elaborate campaign of disclosures to the press, principally to columnists for Eastern papers, CNN and supermarket tabloids.
The object, Pavelic concluded, was to denigrate Shapiro’s legal skills and sense of discretion and to enhance Bailey’s own standing in the case.
Shapiro and Bailey long had been close friends. When Bailey was charged with drunken driving in 1982, he hired Shapiro to represent him. Shapiro, in turn, repeatedly has described Bailey as his mentor and a father figure; he made Bailey the godfather of his eldest son and repeatedly sent him business, including this coveted role in one of the most closely followed cases ever.
But Pavelic’s investigation concluded that Bailey and his entourage had planted articles that Shapiro is more a negotiator than an aggressive trial lawyer and that he lacks courtroom experience. It also blamed the Bailey team for more recent reports that Simpson had moved Shapiro aside and elevated Bailey.
The result is a chasm in Simpson’s defense team. For the last three weeks, Shapiro has refused to speak with Bailey and says he never will speak with him again except on urgent matters pertaining to the Simpson case.
Nor will he be photographed with him, he says, or even ride in the same car. He also has removed Bailey’s name from his letterhead, where he had been listed as “of counsel.”
“The landmark word to me is ‘loyalty,”’ Shapiro said in an interview. “I felt a lifelong commitment to him because he gave me the opportunity to represent him when his professional reputation was at stake. But recent events have been so painful that we’ll never be able to have a relationship again.”
Bailey did not return telephone calls.