Ito's hush-hush sidebars make a secret of banality

March 31, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

Ever wonder what is said during all those sidebars in the O. J. Simpson trial when the parties huddle over to the side of Judge Lance A. Ito's bench?

Contrary to some belief, sidebars are not held so that TV can squeeze in commercials or so viewers can run to the bathroom.

Sidebars, which are rare in most trials, are for the purpose of holding brief arguments outside the hearing of the jury.

And while they are not broadcast in the Simpson trial, most of the sidebars are not secret. The next day a transcript of them can be purchased.

But save your money; I'll provide you with the highlights.

A single day earlier this month gives you the flavor of just what is said during these sidebars and how vital they are to justice.

The day began with lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. interrupting the trial for a sidebar:

The Court: Mr. Cochran.

Mr. Cochran: Judge, there's a young lady, who's taking it off now, wearing that pin, angel pin. I wanted to have her take that pin off.

The Court: That's what it was?

Mr. Cochran: Yes.

The Court: That's the only reason we're here?

Mr. Cochran: That's why we are here.

Later, lead prosecutor Marcia Clark called for a sidebar when she believed Cochran was trying to get into a line of questioning already forbidden by Judge Ito.

Remember, these are just transcripts. They are not translations.

Ms. Clark: This is despicable. This is reprehensible behavior.

Mr. Cochran: Counsel keeps making these machinations!

Ms. Clark: And I would ask the court to cite counsel for misconduct!

Mr. Cochran: Screaming doesn't make shrillness!

Judge Ito, becoming exasperated, tried to guide both sides and in so doing revealed his ultimate goal.

The Court: Let me make it clear. I am not trying to help one side or the other here as I give hints to both sides. I just want to get this over with sometime this lifetime.

Later, however, Cochran asked for another sidebar to complain about testimony regarding where Ronald L. Goldman parked his car before he was stabbed to death at Nicole Brown Simpson's condominium.

Mr. Cochran: We can think of any number of scenarios (for how the car got there.) He could have spent the day over there with her . . . I don't think any witnesses are going to say he drove that car there.

Ms. Clark: You know something? I can't believe that we are up here listening to counsel say this . . . I find it just incredible. They are so greedy. They get everything they want . . . Everyone knows how that car got there . . . But now to complain about this after all they have gotten away with is greedy beyond belief.

Mr. Cochran: That is an objection, greedy beyond belief?

Ito has grown weary beyond belief of all of this and knows that many legal commentators have criticized him for allowing so many and such lengthy sidebars.

But he seems firmly committed to letting both sides have their say for just about as long as they want to say it.

Which does not mean he will not publicly criticize them every now and then.

Such as the day Ito looked down on both sets of lawyers and said, "You guys make me feel like Mr. Kimble up here."

I had been pretty good at tracking down Ito's other mystery references. (It helps to know he is a movie buff.)

And I felt proud of myself for recognizing Ito's "Bloomingbird's" reference from "The Electric Horseman" that I wrote about last month.

And some of Ito's references are easy, like when he said one day: "I am beginning to feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of judges."

But who was Mr. Kimble?

Maybe some of you already know. (Especially if you have a 6-year-old at home.) But I didn't know even how to spell Kimble correctly. (If names are not spelled out for the court reporters, they spell them phonetically in the transcripts.)

Through the services of Westlaw, an electronic data base, however, I was able to track it down:

Kimble, the guy that the lawyers in the Simpson case make Judge Ito feel like, is John Kimble, the kindergarten teacher played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1990 movie "Kindergarten Cop."

And when you read through these sidebar transcripts, you know exactly why Ito feels that way.

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