No shortage of opinions in this O.J. jury Prospects remain on panel despite
their personal biases
Richard Price; Jonathan T. Lovitt
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
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.