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One Year And Counting Court Shenanigans Discredit American Justice, Some Say New York Times

Mon., June 12, 1995

A year has now passed since Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed, an occasion to be marked on Monday by public candlelight vigils and more court testimony.

But with the first anniversary of the Simpson case comes a growing sense that the trial has become an exercise in futility, a dry run for a second run-through that could be just as inconclusive.

To many lawyers and lay people alike, the proceedings in Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom seem endless, exasperating and ultimately meaningless.

But if Simpson’s trial cannot yield a verdict, the all-pervasive case and its myriad subplots have permeated the nation’s legal and social landscape as no other trial in recent times.

Some of the consequences are sobering. Judging from the vastly different views about Simpson’s guilt among blacks and whites, many people have reluctantly concluded that the United States is really two nations divided by biases that warp perception.

“The divisions are so deep and so seemingly irreconcilable,” said Robert Post, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

“It’s one thing to differ about policy questions. But facts are supposed to be things upon which we agree.”

Equally sobering are the conclusions that many people have drawn about the legal system, which, Ito himself has observed, is as much on trial here as Simpson is. While the case has taught Americans much about courts, it has also convinced many of them that the courts do not work.

“If the Simpson case is a trial of the American justice system, we have flunked the test in front of tens of millions of television viewers throughout the world,” Arthur Liman, the New York lawyer, told graduates of Quinnipiac College Law School in Hamden, Conn., last month.

To many of those viewers, justice now seems too slow, too expensive and too tilted toward defendants, even if the defendant before them is charismatic and well heeled.

The case seems clogged with undisciplined, long-winded lawyers playing to the television camera above the jury box. And presiding over everything, in the view of many, is a too tolerant judge too reluctant to assert control, then too arbitrary when he finally does.

The public’s disillusionment has only grown as several dismissed jurors have emerged from sequestration to reveal that what many regard as the defense’s far-fetched conspiracy theories have impressed them as much if not more than the prosecution’s overwhelming scientific evidence, which most legal commentators believe would have convicted anyone but Simpson long ago.

That, in turn, has led to warnings that the jury system must be changed and counter-warnings of the consequences if it is.

Others repercussions from the case are more positive. One is that extensive and graphic testimony about how Simpson beat his wife has made people more likely to report and acknowledge domestic violence.

According to the Cambridge Human Resources Group in Chicago, the Simpson case has thus far cost American employers $27.5 billion in productivity lost in chatter.

But its economic impact, while profound, has been uneven. Sales of Ford Broncos are up; soap opera ratings have nose dived. The case has helped Jay Leno, who decided early on that jokes flowing from the murder of two people were not taboo, to close in on David Letterman.

The case has hurt the waitresses at Nate ‘n Al’s, the venerable Beverly Hills delicatessen; too many tippers are eating their lunches at home.

Sales of quickie books on the case are up; authors of non-Simpson books have suffered as books by principals in the case and hangers-on have sucked up all the attention.

“How many authors have you seen on Larry King in the last year?” asked Michael Viner of Dove Books, publishers of Faye Resnick’s best-selling recollections of the Simpsons and, soon, of the diary of a former Simpson juror, Michael Knox.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal speculated that the sorry spectacle of justice a la Simpson had led to a decline in law school applications.


 

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