Saturday, April 13, 2024

Flashback 1995: "Ito unlikely to leave, experts say."

A courtroom scene, by José Guadalupe Posada (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     O.J. Simpson's body had scarcely begun to singe in hell before readers wondered when I'd be weighing in on the subject. Never, I hope. I hated the case while it was going on, the omnipresence, the sensationalism. Plus I wasn't yet a columnist, so only wrote about it as an assignment, covering some local reaction to a trial development. I wouldn't share this except for Northwestern professor Dan Polsby's sharp closing quote, which is worthy of remembrance. Polsby left NU in 1999 and joined 
Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, retiring in 2020.

     Chicago legal experts regard the possibility of Judge Lance Ito stepping down from the O.J. Simpson trial as just the latest bit of empty theater in a trial that seems to grow stranger and stranger. Few think he will declare a mistrial.
     "Given the investment that everybody has in the trial, I seriously doubt he will" recuse himself, said Dan Polsby, a professor of law at Northwestern University Law School.
     Questions of a judge's possible conflict of interest are rare, and usually are settled without the judge stepping down. Ito did disqualify himself Tuesday from ruling on the tapes of Mark Fuhrman insulting Ito's wife.
     "Contrary to popular opinion, this is not the first trial in history," said Tom Scorza, a former assistant U.S. attorney. "Many times problems develop between a judge and a given witness, particularly a police witness."
     Typically, in matters of bias the judge is concerned with how an appeals court will view a situation, Scorza said. But a Simpson appeal based on bias is unlikely because the judge's possible bias is against a prosecution witness. If Simpson is found guilty, to argue the judge was biased against a witness whose testimony helped convict him doesn't make sense. And if he is found not guilty, there is no need to appeal.
     Area lawyers tend to be critical of Ito, who they say should never have let Fuhrman's racial beliefs become part of the trial.
     "Let's assume he is a racist: So what?" said Patricia Bobb, a trial lawyer and former prosecutor. "Does that establish the fact he planted evidence? The law of evidence is you can't impeach people on collateral matters. Ito is facing a problem he created."
     Bobb said perhaps having Ito step down might not be such a bad thing.
     Northwestern's Dan Polsby seems to agree.
     "This trial is a scale model of eternity," he said. "The O.J. Simpson case looks like it's going to go on until the heat death of the universe."
            —Originally published in the Sun-Times Aug. 16, 1995


  1. People need to remember that it was Ito who was the judge at Charles Keating's massive fraud trial of looting Lincoln Savings, that licked off the S&L crisis that caused the federal government to have to bail out the S&Ls in the country in the late 1980s.
    Keating was convicted & sentenced to many years in prison, but got on a technicality, when he appealed & the appellate court ruled that Ito had totally fucked up how he handled the case, so Keating never really paid for his multiple financial crimes.
    Keating is still alive, living in the Phoenix area in luxury, in fact he was also able to fund his grandson Gary Hall's Olympic swimming career.
    And his grandson is a real piece of work, as he goes around attacking cheating in sports! I guess he doesn't care his grandfather is one of the biggest crooks in US history.
    And I'm betting that Keating's stolen money is in banks in Panama or the Grand Cayman's, just waiting for his grandchildren & great-grandchildren to get!

  2. I've been waiting for someone to mention Royko's column on the day the trial started. He predicted exactly what the outcome would be and why that would happen. The Trib should have rerun that column.

    1. Looked for it. No dice (so far). After the verdict, he made his feelings known. And his opening his take on it was this: "Hey, at least there were no riots."

  3. In addition to Ito, the wannabe celebrity, there were a bunch of bad people who were major players in the case starting with everyone on the "Dream Team" which surprisingly included Barry Scheck (an otherwise decent human being) to the inept prosecutors.

  4. at least this is posted electronically. far too many trees have already died in the rehashing of this pathetic story.

  5. The verdict was announced right right after a big funeral service for my wife's uncle, in Twinsburg, Ohio, southeast of Cleveland. It also coincided with an MLB playoff game downtown.

    During the service, my 80-year-old mother-in-law had trouble breathing, and we had to take her outside, and call the EMTs. I said to my wife: "If you see white smoke when this is over, then he walked, and it's fireworks after a home run. If it's black smoke, then he's been convicted, and the city is burning."

    October, 1995, in a divided America. Before red-and-blue, it was black-and-white. The trial is ancient history now. It's all gone by so fast.

  6. I remember reading this and having many of my fellow lawyers vehemently disagree with Ms Bobb. I don’t know if she was just looking for an opportunity to be quoted in a newspaper but Fuhrams racism and the way he treated suspects as a result certainly gave a motive for planting evidence . The law would in no way require that it “ establish “ that he planted the evidence. She had to know that. That it could have caused him to, was all that was needed to provide a basis for relevancy and admissibility.


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