For O.J.'s Dream Team, air time is their time

January 20, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

LOS ANGELES -- The Dream Team emerged from the elevator on the ground floor of the Criminal Courts Building and charged the waiting microphone like moths gang-tackling a flame.

They are O. J. Simpson's lead attorneys: Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro and F. Lee Bailey. And, having just finished pleading their case in a court of law this day, they were now preparing to plead it in the court of public opinion.

Sometimes it is hard to tell which seems more important to them.

O. J. Simpson, on trial for two murders, cares only about what happens in court. But to these men, who have law careers to consider, all viewers, listeners and readers might be future clients.

The three lawyers swept along the gray granite floor, trailing an entourage of lesser attorneys, those attorneys who might do the actual research but have no hope of getting on television.

And getting on television has become a measure of legal acumen in this trial. Which is why the most dangerous place in Los Angeles at the moment is anywhere between a lawyer and a TV camera.

Johnnie Cochran wore a dark lavender suit, a light lavender pocket handkerchief and a patterned lavender tie. It photographed well.

Cochran looked over at the gaggle of print reporters who stood there, pens poised over notebooks and said: 'We will break into song at the end of this."

In fact, the O. J. Simpson defense team provided more: They provided a song and a dance.

Shapiro went first. "The best lawyer to present this case to the jury," he said, "is Johnnie Cochran Jr. He will be in charge."

Shapiro then slid over to Cochran's right, standing as far away as he could from F. Lee Bailey. Earlier in the day, they had walked into the courthouse together, with Bailey throwing an arm around Shapiro for the benefit of the cameras. Shapiro let the arm stay there for about a tenth of a second before shrugging it off.

"To his everlasting credit, Bob is a team player," Cochran said. "We all have one thing in common: We believe in O. J. Simpson. We believe in his innocence!"

"Our lives aren't what's important," F. Lee Bailey then said. "It's the man sitting up there that's important." (As it turned out, Bailey was not speaking of God, but O. J. Simpson, who was upstairs in a holding room.)

"The Dream Team will never break up!" Cochran said, getting back to what is really important in this trial. "We will stay friends! After the trial, we want to have a reunions every year! And we want to have O. J. Simpson visit!"

Simpson, however, is probably a lot more worried right now over whether he'll be visiting the lawyers, or they will be visiting him -- on visiting day.

The pretrial phase of this case has not gone well for him. On virtually ever major and minor issue, Judge Ito has ruled against him and for the prosecution.

Ito's recent ruling to allow into evidence most of Simpson's past record of abuse toward Nicole Simpson, however, while certainly not helpful to the defense, was not the "crushing blow" that some media reported.

The defense did not expect to win that fight -- California law is liberal on the admission of past "bad acts" -- and, besides, their strength is not in the pretrial phase.

Cochran and Bailey are experts at direct and cross-examination. And while the 911 tapes and eyewitness accounts of Simpson's abusive behavior may now seem extremely damaging, the defense team has not come to bat yet.

"Now that he [Ito] ruled, we're prepared to deal with it," Cochran said. "There are witnesses for almost every one of those incidents, and what I'm saying to you and the public is wait until you've heard all the evidence. This will be vigorously litigated, and I think there'll be a much clearer picture when this is all over."

In other words, don't review the play until you catch the final act.

"There's only one client here," Bailey said to reporters, "and we hope he's going to get what, frankly, he hasn't been getting from you people."

Bailey meant justice, by the way, not publicity.

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