I swear it, your honor, that was not my beeper

October 21, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

LOS ANGELES -- Judge Ito hates me.

On the surface it appears that he hates the media in general.

He has kicked all reporters out of his courtroom during some jury selection in the O. J. Simpson trial. And he may not allow any cameras in the court during the trial itself.

He has forbidden prospective jurors from watching television, listening to radio, reading newspapers, going into bookstores or humming any Broadway show tune written after "Oklahoma."

In theory, Judge Ito recognizes that reporters are part of our constitutional system of checks and balances, acting as watchdogs on the apparatus of government.

In practice, he looks upon reporters as something he found on the bottom of his shoe.

Or that's the way he feels about me, anyway.

It began last week, the first time I entered Ito's courtroom on the ninth floor of the Los Angeles Criminal Courts building.

I took a seat in the press section on a hard wooden pew.

Judge Ito likes to putter around in his courtroom before each session begins. This day, he entered in shirtsleeves, his tie pulled loose, his shirt pocket stuffed with fat black pens.

He shuffled a few papers, checked his computer and then went back out into his chambers.

A few moments later, the bailiff shouted, "Remain seated!" and Ito re-entered the courtroom dressed in his black robe. He took his seat and began the proceedings.

And that is when the beeper went off.

The beeper was in the purse of the reporter sitting next to me, Ann Bollinger of the New York Post. But Ito looked directly at me.

I wanted to tell him it was not my beeper. I wanted to tell him nobody at my paper has ever wanted to reach me badly enough to give me a beeper. I wanted to tell him it was not my fault.

But reporters are not allowed to speak in court.

So Ito just glowered at me.

Bollinger reached into her purse and turned off her beeper.

Ito began court again.

And the beeper went off again.

On Sept. 19, when the cellular phone carried by Robert Shapiro, O. J. Simpson's lead defense lawyer, had started to chirp in the courtroom (it turned out that Larry King was trying to set up an interview), Ito had turned to Shapiro and said sharply: "If it rings again, it's mine."

And I figured if Ito would confiscate the telephone of a lawyer, he would probably confiscate the ears, eyes, nose and throat of a reporter.

Ito turned to a deputy sheriff. "Take it," Ito said.

The deputy seemed uncertain whether Ito was referring to the beeper or to me, but she headed toward where I was sitting.

Bollinger reached into her purse and passed the beeper down the row to the deputy.

But the judge couldn't see that. And when the deputy held up the beeper to demonstrate that I had been disarmed, I knew Ito still blamed me.

Later that same day, I got an opportunity to square things with him, however.

In a rare appearance, Ito came up to the 12th-floor press area to check out the room where reporters would listen to jury $l selection, which is called voir dire.

Voir dire is from the Old French and means "to say the truth."

It is pronounced: vwah deer.

Unfortunately, many lawyers, including Judge Ito, pronounce it as if it were Latin and say: vor dyre, as if it rhymed with sore tire.

Some TV reporters covering the Simpson trial have actually decided to mispronounce it on the air in order not to embarrass Ito. They figure he hates them enough already.

But I didn't know this. And when Ito came into the press area and I asked him a question about "voir dire," I pronounced it the French way.

Ito looked at me the way you would look at any lower life form, turned and left the room.

Yesterday, he announced that all reporters were being banned from the courtroom during a certain part of voir dire and that the audio feed to the press room was being cut.

So I would just like to say to the judge that I have since consulted various French, English and Latin dictionaries, and have realized my mistake.

It should be pronounced: jury selection.

I hope this helps.

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