The People v. O.J. Simpson

I know I promised to write more about Making a Murderer. But, two things happened: first, I got busy with my actual job. Second, O.J.

I watched Episode One of the new O.J. series, The People Versus O.J. Simpson, sooo aptly named. The People really are all either for or against him, let’s face it – with a passion. It is actually one of the only cases, ever, where it really does ultimately boil down to what we, the People, think. Just post a blog about it and you’ll find out… quick.

The main reason I write any of this is to educate people about what criminal lawyers actually do. It seems to be an area that needs some input, with a view towards dispelling some of the myths that exist out there about criminal lawyers and how the criminal justice system functions in real life. I will try here to show how that goal ties in with this new O.J. show, although I’m not so sure the O.J. case has anything to do with what criminal lawyers really do. It is truly surreal in that otherwise all too real world of criminal law.

But it actually happened.

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It does my heart good to see the comments people are making on our Facebook page about my last post discussing the Steven Avery murder case and the Netflix series Making of a Murderer. It makes me think that what I am trying to do here might actually be starting to work.

I’m trying to do two things (which are two sides of the same coin): first, I want to explain to people as best I can how our criminal justice system really works, and what criminal lawyers really do, based on my own experiences working as a criminal defense lawyer for over thirty years. Second, I hope to get people thinking and talking about it. At least people are talking. It’s a start.

I can’t pretend to be able to explain to everyone how our criminal justice system works. Heck, I’ve been doing this forever and sometimes even I don’t understand it. But when it comes to basic concepts like guilt or innocence I have some thoughts.

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"Making a Murderer". Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

“Making a Murderer”. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

It has been tough getting into the swing of things after the holidays. It’s not because there is nothing to talk about; quite the contrary. With Affluenza Teens and Bill Cosby and stand-offs on Federal Land it’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to legal subject matter right now.

Then I binged Making a Murderer last weekend on Netflix.

WOW. Everyone with even a slight interest in how criminal cases really work in real life needs to see this. It’s like the O.J. case on steroids. You just know I had to write about it.

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Political parties can be a problem.

For example, one party has portrayed itself as defenders of racism and discrimination. They have taken the position that it is OK to treat certain members of society differently, as lesser humans. To them, it has been acceptable to take away the constitutional rights of these outcasts.

The other political party has adopted a more enlightened view. They have supported freedom and civil rights for everyone. They have argued that we should all be treated the same by the government, not allowing some to be categorized as inferior to the majority, with less freedom and fewer rights. That party is the Republican Party.

This was the view 150 years ago. Where is it now?

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Liberty in Nice

Paris. Je t’adore. I love Paris.

When the news broke I was lost. Lost in this crazy lost world. A world that has lost its friggin’ mind. Paris? Seriously? Even the stoner guy checking me out at the QFC, the one who was unable to follow directions to find a restaurant a block away when I tried to tell him about it once, even he said, “Paris? Dude! What did they do? I mean, I thought they were pretty chill.”

This guy’s view of world affairs may be a bit misinformed (since France has been involved in fighting in the Middle East and North Africa forever) but he was right. Paris is about life, not death.

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“DA-AAAD!! Who would ever want to hire a lawyer who needs to advertise?!?”

That’s the punch line. Now, here’s the joke: for over a decade, our little law firm had served as the primary public defenders for Island and San Juan Counties. It was tough work, riding ferries at 4 a.m. between the islands during huge winter storms, answering emergency calls in the middle of the night for months on end giving advice to alleged drunk drivers, handling giant murder cases that dragged on forever for $400 a pop, trying every major case that came along while the private guys quietly gouged their clients with exorbitant fees before pleading them guilty without first mastering their cases (my wife told me to put “J/K” after that, but I’m not.)

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Trial Anatomy

[If you missed the first half of this post, it would be good to start at the beginning HERE. I had to cut it in half to make it more manageable, but there are just so many aspects to Petrocelli’s excellent trial work that I couldn’t leave any of this stuff out. Here is the last part of the Petrocelli post…]

Previously, I was explaining how Petrocelli’s questioning of OJ Simpson about his ‘ugly ass shoes’ worked so well – primarily by repeating the defendant’s very memorable statements back to him, and having him repeat obvious lies over, and over, and over. This really made it all stick in the minds of the jurors and made it extremely clear whenever OJ contradicted himself or just sounded so unbelievable they couldn’t look past it anymore.

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I know the criminal guys got all of the attention on OJ, which is part of the reason I am focusing here on the civil lawyer, Dan Petrocelli; the one who sued OJ for Wrongful Death and won. But the main reason to focus on him is that his approach to this case demonstrates everything you need to know about the best way to try a case. Whether you are a seasoned trial attorney or a just an interested citizen, you can learn a lot about the right way to do this work by focusing on what Petrocelli did to achieve victory where others failed.

As with most things, the best way to analyze Petrocelli’s work is to begin with some general fundamentals and then move on to the specifics (just to be clear, I am going to refer to both the deposition and trial when I say “trial work”. That’s because the whole process, from first looking at the evidence to closing arguments, is “trial work.”)

Preparation, preparation, preparation. Preparation is to trial work what location is to real estate: everything. Without it you may as well pack up and go home.

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Dan Petrocelli.

What a guy! Moreover, what a lawyer! This guy demonstrates everything that is good about lawyers and lawyering. Which is great, because decent lawyers were few and far between around the O.J. Simpson cases.

As discussed previously, the O.J. trials had it all: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly… and, of course, being LA, the Beautiful People. The only thing it sorely lacked, in my not so humble opinion, was great lawyering.

Take the prosecutors for example. They weren’t horrible. But they weren’t great. Simply put, this case, and the memories of Nicole and Ron Goodman, deserved better. It’s not totally the prosecutors’ fault; they suffered from prosecutor-itis. It comes from years of perfecting “masterful” trial techniques, like repeating the same question over and over: “And then what happened?”

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