No shortage of opinions in this O.J. jury Prospects remain on panel despite

  their personal biases

  Richard Price; Jonathan T. Lovitt


  USA Today


  Page 14A

  (Copyright 1996)


  SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- True to form, the O.J. Simpson case is venturing

  into uncharted territory again -- this time by assembling an opinionated jury.


  ``I call it the Christopher Columbus of trials,'' jury consultant Robert Hirschhorn

  says. ``We're exploring areas we've never seen before. There's never been a civil

  trial with this much intense knowledge, passion and opinion.''


  When court resumes Tuesday, it will mark Day 14 of jury selection for the

  wrongful-death civil suit brought against Simpson by the families of Nicole

  Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. And so far, it is the rare juror who

  professes to have no real opinion whether Simpson killed his ex-wife and her

  friend in June 1994.


  Most of the 89 jury candidates who remain in the pool have described

  secondhand evidence, rumors, misinformation and personal bias, all accumulated

  over 28 months of publicity surrounding the criminal trial that ended in

  Simpson's acquittal a year ago.


  But Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki, left with no alternative, is refusing to cut any

  prospects who convince him they can set their opinions aside. Once he's

  assembled 100 or so potential jurors, the final phase of questioning will begin.


  Most experts say the trial will start at month's end with 12 jurors and eight

  alternates evenly split in opinions.


  Among potential jurors who have survived questioning thus far, for example, is a

  black postal employee in her 30s who celebrated Simpson's acquittal at an office

  party last October. ``Everybody was happy,'' she said. ``It was like at a basketball

  game or a football game.''


  ``They were cheering?'' asked Daniel Petrocelli, lawyer for Goldman's family.


  ``Yes,'' the woman said.


  Then there's a white woman between 35 and 45 who deals with domestic

  violence in her work. She believed Simpson was guilty before his arrest. Her

  brother donated cash to the Goldman legal fund.


  ``I have bias,'' she told the judge. ``This is probably not a case I should sit on.''

  But after she acknowledged that she could be swayed by more information, the

  judge did not dismiss her.


  Even journalists have a shot at making this jury. A Time magazine reporter said

  she thought Simpson was guilty but still survived the cut.


  How opinionated can a prospect be and still pass muster? The judge set the

  standard last week with a Filipino woman who said she thought Simpson was

  guilty. When Simpson lawyer Robert Blasier asked her to evaluate how guilty on

  a scale of 1 to 10, she replied, ``Oh, about a 7.''


  She made the cut.


  All through this process, the jury prospects repeatedly regurgitate evidence from

  the criminal trial. The glove didn't fit, one said, recalling the moment when

  Simpson tried on a glove presumably used by the killer. It did fit, another said;

  Simpson just made it look tight.


  In short, this court is hearing the same exchanges from these would-be jurors that

  millions of Americans have been hearing in conversations around living rooms

  and offices for two years.


  That's touched off sharp debate among analysts about what this unique jury pool

  means not only for the trial but for the legal system generally.


  The biggest question: Can a heavily opinionated jury render a fair verdict? In the

  information age, that has broad relevancy, because the courts are seeing an

  increasing number of jurors with knowledge of the cases before them.


  Not that opinionated jurors are entirely new. Appeals courts generally have ruled

  that judges can accept these jurors as long as they give ``unqualified'' guarantees

  they can set their opinions aside.


  Case studies suggest that jurors often change their minds through the course of a

  case. Jury consultant Hirschhorn, while acknowledging that the upcoming

  Simpson trial constitutes the supreme test, believes it will happen here.


  ``I've seen it time and time again,'' says Hirschhorn, who is not involved in this

  case. ``It's hard, but they do it. That's why they call this jury duty, not jury



  Even assuming a jury is split at the start, only three people need change their

  minds to reach a 9-3 verdict, all that's required in this civil action. Hirschhorn's

  prediction: a verdict against Simpson of $10 million or more.


  But Southwestern University law professor Robert Pugsley says opinion is so

  entrenched in this case, and tied so closely to race, that nobody will change his

  or her mind.


  Certainly, the racial split is evident in the jury pool that now stands at 41 whites,

  32 blacks and 16 others. Black juror prospects generally consider Simpson

  innocent while whites think he's guilty -- a reflection of the national split on that



  Pugsley says chances are strong that the jury will end up with six blacks, six

  whites and a tie vote -- which could add up to a mistrial, essentially a victory for



  ``Why don't they just pick the jury, then take a vote and call off the trial?''

  Pugsley says.``Why waste four months of money and heartache?''


  The lawyers for the two sides agree that racial identity is a key factor but say

  they can sway jurors anyway.


  They're working on it already. Robert Baker, another Simpson lawyer, has kept

  Simpson out of court so white jurors would not be intimidated about admitting

  their biases.


  For their part, the families' lawyers have spent a great deal of time firing leading

  questions at black jurors, all designed to force admissions that they support



  The families' lawyers also are expected to minimize or eliminate testimony from

  witnesses who may anger black jurors. Mark Fuhrman is one such witness. The

  ex-policeman says he found the bloody glove, and he was exposed as a racist

  during the trial.


  Nicole Brown's sister, Denise Brown, also is a dubious witness for the families.

  Various black juror prospects last week called her ``phony'' and a ``liar.'' Former

  Simpson houseguest Kato Kaelin likewise is regarded by many black juror

  prospects as unreliable.


  But jury consultant Sonya Hamlin, who's been guiding lawyers for 20 years, says

  no one can predict how the racial angle will play. If a mistake was made in the

  criminal trial, she believes the prosecutors -- and not the predominantly black

  jury -- blew the case.


  ``What these attorneys must do is present a good story,'' she says. ``Whichever

  side does that will win. It's not a question of color. Black or white, jurors can be


  PHOTO,b/w,H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY ; Caption: 'Passion and opinion':

  Among potential jurors in the civil case is one who celebrated O.J. Simpson's

  acquittal at a party and one who says she believed Simpson was guilty even

  before he was arrested.