OJ by the sea.

O.J. by the Sea

O.J. by the Sea

Notes from different corners of the world.
Oct. 9 1996 3:30 AM

O.J. by the Sea

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       Whiplash. If I were in a car, I'd be suing this guy for the sudden stop. But I'm in Department Q in Santa Monica, and the guy is Judge Fujisaki, and this feeling of the brakes being applied unexpectedly, and with great force, comes from attending this morning's hearing on motions in the O.J. civil trial. And, needless to say, you don't sue the judge.
       Fujisaki is on a mission. He is the anti-Ito. So, while a day scheduled for decisions on motions in the criminal trial basically meant, "Turn on the TV, have some beverages of your choice and maybe a couple of sandwiches nearby, and settle into a comfortable chair for a day of harangue-filled lawyertainment," the motion hearings in this trial could, if the proceedings were televised, barely pre-empt an entire Lucy rerun. In fairness, much of the contrast can be ascribed to the difference between rules of civil and criminal procedure. But, from the few shards of dialogue actually spoken this morning, it's clear that the criminal trial hangs over this proceeding like the massive UFO in the Independence Day ads, ready to suck up all the earthlings if they don't proceed with great care.
       Yesterday's session was even brisker. Like another writer, I arrived on the scene after the 15-minute hearing disposed of defense attempts to bring Faye Resnick ("the poster child for waiver of the right to privacy," as O.J.'s attorney Bob Baker described her) into the civil trial. Just so I wouldn't feel that the quarters I dumped into the parking meter were spent in vain, I stationed myself for an hour in a network trailer with a TV producer and a newspaper reporter covering the trial. They regaled me with stories of the potential jurors I had missed:
       "Did you see the one who was stoned?" she asked me.
       "He wasn't stoned," he demurred.
       "Bob Baker wanted that guy on the jury, and even he described him as 'toasted,' " she rejoined.
       We are in the interregnum between the second phase of jury selection, in which the aspirants were questioned on their exposure to Hurricane Orenthal, and phase three, questioning on general attitudes toward race, domestic violence and other juicy topics. While the judge plays fungo with motions, reporters are organizing their notes on the jurors who remain in the pool.
       And they also talk, with some surprise in their voices, about the racial divide. An overwhelmingly white media contingent seems to have discovered, thanks to phase two, the two Americas predicted by the Kerner Commission three decades ago. What's the matter, don't these people listen to music on the radio? With the exception of stations catering to the youngest teens--always open to the excitement of music from the "other" part of town--white stations don't play black music and black stations don't play white music. Even "classic rock" has redefined our past so as not to include Motown and Stax-Volt. One might also check the TV ratings, where white audiences seem to love Seinfeld, while black viewers rate him in the low 70s. A wealth of media choices has meant an end to the "mass audience," the media equivalent of the large high school court-ordered to integrate. Niche marketers have sliced along society's fault lines, and trust has followed familiarity through the door.
       Judge Fujisaki arrives on the bench 23 minutes late for the 9 a.m. session. The only person publicly grumbling is a law professor who's trying to squeeze in some productive courtroom time before his heavy schedule of TV appearances. It would be nice to actually see what he's going to be analyzing, but he skedaddles five minutes after the judge arrives.
       Fujisaki enters wearing rimless glasses and carrying a sheaf of the motions and opposing arguments. He no sooner hits the bench than he turns to confer with his clerk, a youngish, slim blonde woman, who heads back to his chamber and returns shortly with more motions and arguments. Now he gets down to business. The first item, a motion inlimine, is the plaintiffs' attempt to quash any defense references to possible planting of evidence. After reciting the topic of the motion, the judge invites the attorneys to address him. Bob Blasier--the only man who can make Gerald Uehlman sound exciting--takes the floor for the defense.
       "Your Honor, I think it's important for the court to focus on what's being asked for here," Blasier opens. This is the kind of condescension Ito would studiously ignore, like the reaction to flatulence in a crowded elevator. Fujisaki goes the other way. He gestures to the piles of paper before him, laughs and shrugs, leaving it for the attorney to get the message: "Don't you think that's what I've been doing, focusing on what's being asked for? What kind of idiot do you think I am, you heaving mound of mercenary putrescence?"
       Blasier persists. "Well, I just wanted to make it clear that what the plaintiffs seek to exclude is not only the claim of deliberate planting or contamination, but also accidental substitution, accidental contamination, and ..."
       Fujisaki is way ahead of him. "I don't have a problem with that. The only thing I'm going to make a ruling on is what you can say in your opening statement."
       Blasier: "Well ..."
       Fujisaki pushes on. "You might understand after I make my ruling why I said that."
       Blasier: "Well ..."
       Fujisaki, impatient at Blasier's inability to understand that he's going to win something: "I'm not going to limit your ability on cross-examination to test evidence. I just don't want grandiose theories placed before a jury where what's been placed before the court indicates no evidence for such theories. I don't want to refer to the prior trial"--not much--"but some references were made to things where no evidence was shown. I think," the judge concludes, "that that misdirects the jury." His glasses are off now, his elbows resting on the arms of his tall armchair, his hands clasping and unclasping inches below his chin.
       After a little more colloquy, Blasier says something that rings tinnier than Bill Clinton's sax playing in the ear of any true O.J. trialophile: "We're not arguing a police conspiracy. That has never been our argument." The sodium pentothal, please.
       Now Fujisaki reads his ruling. The day's headline is a defense victory, a refusal to preclude an argument of planting with regard to the glove and socks found at Rockingham and the blood found on the Bundy rear gate (as well as the late-August Bronco blood specimens). The plaintiffs do score some victories, however: Planting cannot be implied about the blood drops at the crime scene and at O.J.'s house, about the blood from the Bronco taken on July 13, about the knit cap or the Bundy glove. Petrocelli, who had "submitted" without argument before the ruling is announced, attempts to be heard on the issue of the Rockingham glove, and no wonder. That's the door through which the specter of Mark Fuhrman walks. Bob Baker will have none of it. "He submitted." Ito, to whom the sound of lawyers talking was always as welcome as newly discovered Brahms, would have let Petrocelli be heard. Fujisaki merely reiterates that this is his order. If Ito drank orange juice each day before trial, Fujisaki will have melon slices, or kiwi balls.
       The defense loses the next motion, an attempt to get a "jury view" of Rockingham and Bundy. Baker makes an impassioned oral plea, arguing that because there is a "plethora" of potential jurors who believe that O.J. is "probably guilty," it's more important to take them to the scenes. He "respectfully" requests that the judge go take a look-see, which will prove to him that "photographs do not show" how inaccessible the area is where the Rockingham glove was found, how small the "caged-in area" is where the murders occurred. "I can," Baker promised, "arrange that the court can get into these areas without being seen. With respect"--here's that UFO hovering--"the court in the criminal trial made the jury views a media circus."
       But Fujisaki points out that two years have passed, and that neither area looks the same as it did on June 12, 1994. "I'm inclined to deny the motion, and I will deny." Baker can show how small or inaccessible the areas are, if photos don't suffice, the judge says: "You can go out and take measurements."
       The judge is off the bench and back in chambers by 9:45. The whole proceeding has taken just about 22 minutes. Reporters immediately start conferring with each other, comparing notes on what's in and what's out, on who won and who lost. Media conspiracy? Or just a desire not to be the one person out on a limb with a noticeably goofy interpretation?
       Me, I'm taking treatments for a stiff neck. I don't have one, but it'll help my whiplash case.

Harry Shearer is a writer, actor, and director who has met both Kato Kaelin and Heidi Fleiss.