Hey, wake up! Zingers relieve often-boring trial

March 16, 1995|By Roger Simon | Roger Simon,Sun Columnist

LOS ANGELES -- O. J. Simpson is zoning out.

He is doing his Forrest Gump routine. He sits in his blue chair behind the defense table and stares straight ahead at the space above the American flag on the wall opposite him.

He purses his lips, tenses his cheek muscles, grimaces and lets out this very soft sigh.

He does this again and again.

Of the many things that have been said of O. J. Simpson -- that he is a kind, gentle, innocent, violent, brutal and guilty man -- nobody has ever accused him of being interested in long hours of legal proceedings.

And even though his future and his life as he knows it are at stake in this trial, he often experiences an emotion that has nothing to do with high anxiety.

Much of the time, O. J. Simpson is bored.

He is not alone in this.

On Monday, a Los Angeles reporter was thrown out of court for sleeping.

On Tuesday, a member of the public was thrown out of court for sleeping.

And there have been reports that at least one juror may be in trouble for being "inattentive", if not in actual slumber, during the court sessions.

Rundown building

So let us go then, you and I, into Courtroom 9-307 and see for ourselves if this is the trial -- or the snooze -- of the century.

I think you may be pleasantly surprised.

You will first notice that the Criminal Courts Building on the gritty northern edge of downtown Los Angeles is decorated in Early '50s Rec Room: The walls are fake wood paneling and the ceilings are acoustic tile.

We take an elevator to the high-security ninth floor and this can be a more challenging experience than any ride at Disneyland.

The elevators in the Criminal Courts Building are slow, crowded and erratic and the prosecution has read that into the court record. ("The elevators in this building are terrible," Deputy District Attorney Chris Darden said one day to Judge Lance A. Ito, explaining why he was late to court for about the tenth time.)

This day, we are crushed up against lead prosecutor Marcia Clark, prosecutor Cheri Lewis, and Detective Tom Lange.

In other parts of Los Angeles, you can see celebrities; at the Criminal Courts Building, you can elbow them.

Preferential treatment

We get to the ninth floor and even though we have gone through a metal detector to get into the building, we must now go through a second one.

Unless we are the prosecutors.

They always make a big show of walking around the metal detectors, often while grinning. Which drives the defense lawyers nuts.

Here comes lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., all smiles and hellos for everybody, greeting court personnel by name, and he stops and gets in line to go through the metal detector while Marcia Clark, the chief prosecutor, smiles and walks around it.

Is this fair?

It is not.

So why does it happen?

Well, even though prosecutors and defense attorneys are both officers of the court and guided by the same rules of ethics, the court assumes that the prosecutors will not slip O. J. a gun, while the defense attorneys might.

We wait outside the courtroom for a while, where the lawyers have been specifically ordered by Judge Ito not to talk to us. How does he know if this rule is being broken?

Well, unknown to most people, those smoked-glass globes set into the acoustical tiles in the ceiling house conceal video cameras that constantly scan the crowds, both outside and inside the courtroom.

O. J. Simpson has, perhaps, the easiest way of getting into the courtroom. He is taken by van from jail, has his manacles removed and changes out of his blue cotton prison jumpsuit into one of the many suits his lawyers has selected from his wardrobe at his estate.

The jurors don't dress as well as Simpson, but they do dress as seriously. Even though this is Southern California, they are in dark and somber colors -- black, brown and gray -- as if they were at a funeral.

Though this is not why we see so many flowers in the courtroom.

They have been sent by members of the public to the various superstars in the case.

A TV viewer in Illinois sent Darden a $300 floral arrangement so large that it took two delivery men to carry it. About a half-dozen arrangements arrive each day and are displayed on the orders of Judge Ito.

Numerous arrangements were sent to Marcia Clark (who passed them along to a local hospital) after her ex-husband sued her for joint custody of their two children, charging she has insufficient time for them due to the Simpson trial.

"I don't have $60 to throw away, believe me, I'm not rich," Liz Troglin, a nurse from Huntsville, Ala., wrote in sending a bouquet of yellow roses to Clark. "But if we all just took the time to tell someone, 'hang in there,' this would be a better country."

Judge likes hourglassses

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Ito sends thank you notes when he gets flowers, but if you really want to get on his good side, do what a fan in Indianapolis did and send him an hourglass.

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