Did O.J. Simpson Get Jobbed By His Lawyer?

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
May 16 2013 11:31 AM

Did O.J. Simpson Get Jobbed By His Lawyer?

O.J. Simpson
O.J. Simpson waits to continue testifying after a break in an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court May 15, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photo by Julie Jacobson - Pool/Getty Images

In 1995, when O.J. Simpson stood trial for the double murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, he was represented by a group of prominent attorneys dubbed “The Dream Team.” Despite the bushels of evidence against him, Simpson was acquitted. In 2008, when Simpson stood trial for robbing some sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel room, he was represented by Yale Galanter, a Miami criminal defense attorney who, despite his name, did not attend Yale, but rather Nova Southeastern University. Simpson was convicted and sentenced to 33 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after nine years. You get what you pay for, I guess.

In a Las Vegas courtroom this week, in a hearing to determine whether Simpson should be retried, a shackled, heavyset O.J. testified that he paid Galanter $500,000 to pay co-counsel and hire investigators and expert witnesses. Simpson claims that his attorney banked that money rather than use it to help Simpson’s defense. (Simpson also claims that he thought Galanter had agreed to represent him for free.) What’s more, Simpson says, Galanter allegedly knew about the plan to confront the memorabilia dealers and advised Simpson that it was legal, failed to tell Simpson that prosecutors had discussed a plea deal, and dissuaded the former football player from testifying in his defense because, he claimed, Simpson was sure to be acquitted. Galanter has not yet commented on any of these accusations, but he is scheduled to testify on Friday—and you’d have to imagine that he’ll tell a different story.

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Simpson will never appear on any list of the most trustworthy former NFL stars. To the general public, he has no credibility. But if you believe his testimony here, and the testimony of several others with knowledge of the case, there’s only one possible conclusion: O.J. Simpson got screwed by his lawyer.

No matter what you think of the man who was acquitted of murdering two people almost two decades ago, that’s a shame. Every defendant deserves effective counsel. As a defendant, you shouldn’t have to second-guess your lawyer or wonder whether she has your best interests at heart. You should be able to assume that your attorney is working for you, not against you.

Not that many people are mourning O.J.’s lost years. But our justice system is cheapened when convictions are won not on the strength of the evidence against a defendant, but on the indifference or ineptitude of defense counsel. You don’t need to have sympathy for O.J. Simpson to realize that.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.