The Important Balancing Act Between Using the “Spotlight” Of the Media and Maintaining Professionalism and Advocacy for Clients
I was one of the lawyers for LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman and Fred Goldman, father of Ron Goldman, who was slain in 1994 and for which O.J. Simpson was acquitted. My law firm filed a wrongful death case against OJ on behalf of Fred Goldman as a result of the murder of his son. We also sued the tabloids and Attorney Robert Shapiro for defamation for the claim by these parties that Mark Fuhrman had planted the bloody glove at the Simpson estate. As a result of my involvement in this case, my life was never the same after that.
While I was basically a small player in this LA drama, I often got 5 – 10 press calls each day while representing my clients. The calls came from prominent news media in New York and L.A. as well as other locations asking me to comment on the case. For a lawyer, maintaining professionalism and attorney client confidences was always being tested as the press were relentless in wanting soundbites.
In representing my client, Detective Fuhrman, a need came up for me to listen to certain audio tapes he had made during an interview about LAPD and gangs, prior to the Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman murders. So I decided to visit Judge Ito’s court during the OJ trial, believing I could convince him to give me the tapes. There, in open court, I stated that I wanted the tapes because they had my client’s voice on them to which, Johnny Cochran then gleefully replied, “Well I guess I don’t have to prove that anymore.”
As difficult as it was to proceed, I persevered, convincing Judge Ito to call the attorneys who had the tapes to ask them to deliver them to me. I then received clearance to listen to the tapes. In looking back on this, I now realize how out of control and wild that trial was: No civil lawyer with a related criminal case should be able to just walk into a murder trial with no paperwork and seek relief from the criminal judge. However, I did this because that is how I litigate: no strategic legal angle is out of bounds, no facts are run from and no lying witness will be tolerated. When you can get a judge in one of the most sensational murder trials in the world to give you an audience, to which you have no right, fighting and winning civil cases becomes the norm.
The OJ murders obsessed the entire world in 1994. The level of interest in the murder case is now legend. People spent their entire days watching Court TV for each day’s new revelations of these gruesome killings. The press were like rabid dogs in their quest to scoop their competition on the latest court legal maneuver, Judge Ito issues, celebrity lawyer grilling of Mark Fuhrman, bloody glove theories, and so much more.
With the recent FX TV miniseries, The People Versus O.J. Simpson, we got to revisit the “Trial of the Century” and see how things really went down in 1994. If we can learn anything from the mistakes that were made, I would caution people to be careful what they say and what they write, whether on tape, on voice mail or in posting on social media. We spend a good deal of our lives today on social media and our posts are generally done after a few seconds’ thought or are instant reactions to someone else’s comments.
Attorneys, too, need to be careful and cautious of the ego-boosting need to grandstand in front of the media when representing celebrity clients. Balancing professionalism and advocacy for our clients is a skill that we get to practice every day, especially in the Age of Information.