Judge in Simpson case moves to plug press leaks

August 30, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- With the murder trial of O. J. Simpson scheduled to begin in three weeks, Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito took aggressive steps yesterday to control information in the case, distributing a proposed order that would halt everyone connected with the investigation from publicly discussing evidence, documents or exhibits.

Although Judge Ito declined to release his proposed order to the media, a copy reviewed by the Los Angeles Times makes it clear that he is angry about the continuing disclosure of information in the press.

"A trial court not only has the authority but the affirmative duty to protect the right to a fair trial," Judge Ito wrote. "In order to fulfill this duty, given the amount of media interest and coverage this ** case has ignited, the court must use its inherent authority to control the judicial proceedings."

Any violation of his order, Judge Ito wrote, "will incur sanctions." He did not specify precisely what those sanctions would be, but cited three California code sections that lay out some of the possible punishments. The sanctions include fining violators or holding them in contempt of court.

Judge Ito also suggested that the Simpson case might be cause to "reconsider the wisdom" of rules that allow cameras and recording devices in courtrooms.

The immediate impact of Judge Ito's order was to prevent the release of two important motions in the Simpson case filed yesterday by his battery of attorneys. One of those motions seeks dismissal of the case by arguing that the evidence presented during the preliminary hearing was insufficient, and the other asks that evidence seized during a search of Mr. Simpson's home should be excluded if the case goes to trial because police officers acted improperly in gathering that evidence.

The conduct of officers in the search is one of several issues that Mr. Simpson's attorneys are contesting as they assert their client's innocence. He is charged with the murders of Ronald Lyle Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, whose bloody bodies were found early on June 13.

The hearing yesterday morning represented the most aggressive attack yet on the integrity of the investigating officers in the case and is the latest signal of the defense's intent to challenge virtually every aspect of the case against Mr. Simpson.

In the motion heard yesterday, defense attorneys sought personnel records and other documents detailing the backgrounds of four key detectives in the case -- Philip L. Vannatter, Tom Lange, Ronald Phillips and Mark Fuhrman. Detectives Vannatter and Lange are the lead investigators, and Detectives Phillips and Fuhrman were the first two detectives assigned to the case.

Defense attorneys are seeking any complaints filed against the officers, as well as other material related to their performance with the police department.

But most of the argument yesterday centered around Detective Fuhrman, who said he found a bloody glove outside Mr. Simpson's Brentwood estate a few hours after the bodies were discovered. In addition to Detective Fuhrman's personnel records, defense attorneys are seeking access to his Marine Corps file.

Members of Mr. Simpson's defense camp have accused

Detective Fuhrman of being a racist and of planting evidence in a previous case that involved a black man shot by LAPD officers. They also have suggested that Detective Fuhrman might have planted the glove in order to be hailed for solving the crime.

According to law enforcement sources, Los Angeles police officials have conducted an internal inquiry to determine whether Detective Fuhrman could have taken a glove from the murder scene and carried it to Mr. Simpson's house, as defense sources have alleged. The police department has concluded that it would have been virtually impossible for that to happen, in part because 14 other officers were at the scene and had secured it by the time Detective Fuhrman arrived.

Defense attorneys did not directly raise the issue of planting the glove yesterday, and they carefully broached the topic of Detective Fuhrman's alleged racism, anxious to avoid pTC accusations that they are injecting race into the already volatile case. Instead, they said their accusations are solely based on public documents and a sworn declaration taken earlier this month from a woman who said she met Detective Fuhrman in 1985 or 1986.

Detective Fuhrman's lawyer, Robert H. Tourtelot, denied that his client is a racist or that he made racially inflammatory comments attributed to him by others. In connection with a 1983 pension case, Detective Fuhrman allegedly told a psychiatrist that he was frustrated by minorities and preoccupied with violence. And a real estate agent named Kathleen Bell said in a recent sworn declaration that Detective Fuhrman told her in 1985 or 1986 that he intentionally pulled over interracial couples when he spotted them together in cars.

Judge Ito did not rule on the defense request for records of the officers, but his comments from the bench suggested that he is likely to grant it at least partially.

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