Simpson lawyer denies defense team shake-up

January 04, 1995|By New York Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- As rumors and press reports about changes in O. J. Simpson's defense team flew around him, Robert Shapiro denied yesterday that he had been demoted by his client or displaced by his co-counsel.

When Mr. Shapiro, newly returned from a Hawaiian vacation, arrived at the Los Angeles County jail Monday, he was greeted by a phalanx of reporters and camera crews, asking whether his role in the case had changed.

They had been aroused by a report in the Daily News in New York, that Mr. Simpson had decided to "bench" Mr. Shapiro and "hand the ball" to his co-counsel, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.

In an interview, Mr. Shapiro called the report "just another false story," dismissing it as the work of reporters restless after a long hiatus from the case.

"It's been two weeks of no O. J., so somebody's cranking up the wheels and saying, 'Let's do some O. J. stuff,' " he said.

Mr. Shapiro said he and other lawyers in the case were continually discussing who would do what, particularly as the trial nears, and there had been no fundamental realignment of responsibilities.

"My theory and O. J.'s theory is that the best people who can relate to the jury that's selected will be chosen to present the case," he said. "Our strategy is the same as it was on Day 1, and that's that."

Local criminal defense lawyers said the report, if true, merely documented the normal pretrial jockeying between lawyers in a case, aggravated here by the glare of publicity and a legal team in which, as one lawyer put it, "There are a bunch of queen bees and no worker bees."

Many defense lawyers have long noted Mr. Cochran's edge over Mr. Shapiro in courtroom experience and predicted that he would assume a larger role in the trial, particularly after the selection of a jury in which members of minorities are the majority. Mr. Cochran, like eight of the 12 jurors, is black.

According to the Daily News report, Mr. Simpson told Mr. Shapiro that he would remain the quarterback, but Mr. Cochran would be the halfback and F. Lee Bailey, another of the former football star's lawyers, the fullback.

Mr. Simpson is known to have spoken of his legal team in such football metaphors. And while he has also spoken of a larger role for Mr. Cochran on the field, he has told members of his legal team that he wanted Mr. Shapiro to remain the coach or quarterback.

Were there any rancor between Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Cochran, it was not apparent in their daylong huddle yesterday, after which the two hugged each other.

Long hearings on the admissibility of crucial DNA evidence are scheduled to start this week.

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