Jurors turn to punitive damages

  Debbie Howlett; Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 10A

  (Copyright 1997)


  SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- After branding him a killer, civil jurors today will

  take up the issue of punishing O.J. Simpson.


  And that means money.


  Lots of money, according to civil trial experts.


  The punitive award ``is going to be gigantic,'' predicts lawyer Robert Tourtelot.


  Lawyer David Margulies agrees: ``$100 milllion wouldn't surprise me. . . . It has

  to do with how outraged they (jurors) are.''


  The jury has already slapped Simpson with an $8.5 million judgment in the

  wrongful death of Ron Goldman. It also held Simpson liable for the attack that

  caused the death of his ex-wife, Nicole.


  Now jurors are being asked to determine Simpson's net worth and then assess

  punitive damages. That amount, under state law, is left to the jury's ``sound

  discretion exercised without passion or prejudice . . . in light of the defendant's

  financial condition.''


  The plaintiffs' lawyers think Simpson is worth $24 million, counting pension

  funds and an insurance policy.


  Simpson, in revised financial statements provided to the court last week, is

  believed to have claimed a net worth of less than zero.


  It will be up to jurors, who were unanimous in Tuesday's verdict, to sort through

  the numbers.


  They are expected to spend the next two or three days listening to testimony and

  reviewing documents detailing Simpson's finances after hearing opening

  arguments by lawyers on both sides.


  ``This will be very brief,'' says John C. Taylor, a local lawyer who specializes in

  civil trial. ``The hardest thing after you sat there and denied everything and the

  jury obviously doesn't believe you and wants to punish you to boot is to get up

  and argue effectively.''


  During a hearing Wednesday outside the jury's presence, Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki

  ruled lawyers for the families of Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson may call

  experts on the future financial value of the name and likeness of the football Hall

  of Famer.


  Acknowledging defense objections, Fujisaki said, ``This is a wonderful

  opportunity for the appellate courts.''


  Though damage awards can be reduced on appeal, legal experts suggest Simpson

  civil jurors are more concerned with sending a message.


  In most wrongful death cases in California, a $1 million award for compensatory

  damages is considered extraordinary. And punitive damages rarely approach $4



  The mind-set of jurors is key, lawyers agree.


  ``Many times a jury will come out and award no punitive damages. They say,

  `We lumped those into compensatory damages,' '' says Taylor. ``They are not

  supposed to do that but the reality is a lot of times large verdicts come back large

  for that very reason.''

  PHOTO, B/W, Reuters