Prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey bitterly clashed in a courtroom exchange in which she called him a liar and he sought relief from Judge Lance Ito.
The clash, outside the presence of the jury but broadcast live Wednesday for a national television audience, was among the nastiest yet between attorneys in the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial.
At issue were comments Bailey had made in court Tuesday in which he claimed to have spoken “Marine to Marine” on the telephone with a defense witness who would testify that Los Angeles Police Department detective Mark Fuhrman had used racial epithets.
But the witness, Marine sergeant Max Cordoba, told NBC’s “Dateline” on Tuesday night that he never had spoken with Bailey.
Armed with a videotape of the interview that she played for Ito in court Wednesday, Clark asked the judge to hold Bailey in contempt and preclude Simpson’s lawyers from calling Cordoba to the witness stand.
“This is the kind of nonsense that gives lawyers a bad name, Your Honor,” she said, pointing her finger at Bailey. “They’ll get up and they’ll misrepresent to their heart’s content until they get caught, and then they have excuses and then they start splitting hairs.”
“As an officer of the court, he has lied to this court,” Clark said. “He was impeached by his own witness.”
Bailey jumped to his feet at the assertion he had lied. “I object, your honor. I ask that you put a stop to it,” he said, his face red and voice edged with anger. “Either put Cordoba on the stand or stop her (Clark) from testifying.”
Clark cut Bailey off with a withering reply: “Excuse me, Mr. Bailey. Stand up and speak when it’s your turn.”
Ito then admonished Bailey not to interrupt Clark, noting that while the issue was a volatile one, “it’s a big problem for the court. I ask you to control yourself, sir.”
Clark then continued, urging Ito to sanction Bailey.
“Mr. Bailey - you can see how agitated he is - has been caught in a lie,” she said. “And you know something, not in this case, you don’t get away with that. There’s just too many people watching.”
When Clark was done, Bailey sought to regain his footing.
“I do not appreciate being called a liar in any court and I will ask at the proper time for correct action to be taken against the offender,” he said.
“The proper way to proceed if there was any claim of misleading the court would be to put the witness on the witness stand under oath and let him be questioned in the court’s presence.”
Bailey told Ito that he had, indeed spoken to Cordoba two weeks ago, picking up the phone “just to say hello, as one Marine to another,” as Cordoba talked to defense investigator Pat McKenna.
Ito responded that he was “concerned that the statement, ‘I have spoken with him on the phone personally, Marine to Marine,’ that sort of connotates something more than just, ‘Hi, how are you? I’m glad to talk to you.’ “
Apparently unswayed by Bailey’s version of events, Ito barred the defense from cross-examining Fuhrman about Cordoba’s comments until Cordoba is brought to the witness stand to explain his view.
Outside of court, Bailey conceded to reporters that his conversation with Cordoba had been brief, that they had not discussed any specifics of the case or his recollections, and that Cordoba may not even have known he was talking to Bailey.
On Wednesday night, Cordoba told NBC he had indeed talked briefly with Bailey, despite his denial to reporter Stone Phillips the night before, and that he now recalls Fuhrman once called him a “nigger” at a Marine recruiting station and had referred to him as “boy.”
Bailey and Clark also sparred in court over Bailey’s planned use of a leather glove as a prop during cross examination. Bailey bought the glove, which was similar to the one Fuhrman found at the Simpson estate.
Clark objected, calling the display misleading, noting that Bailey’s glove was small while the gloves held as evidence were extra large. She seized on the size discrepancy to take a jab at the famous defense attorney.
“Size small,” she said, laying the glove across her palm. “I guess it’s Mr. Bailey’s.”
Ito ruled the defense could not display a glove in a plastic bag unless the offered glove was a closer approximation to a size XL.
Asked by reporters whether the courtroom confrontations were becoming more personal, Bailey responded: “Whoever has a witness, has Marcia Clark in his face,” he said. “And the worse she’s faring, the more shrill she gets.”
Clark - a hard-charging civil servant unknown to the public eight months ago - seemed to relish taking on the legendary Bostonbased attorney, legal experts said.
“She was in her own element today,” Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said. “I don’t think F. Lee Bailey is used to being treated this way. He’s not used to someone like a Marcia Clark willing to stand up to him.”
University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky said it was an example of pent-up tensions and animosity surfacing among the attorneys.
“My guess is that Bailey, because of his style, most irritates the prosecution,” Chemerinsky said. “And the reason Bailey responded with such outrage is that his reputation is on the line.”
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