Judge Fujisaki makes O.J. civil trial efficient

Generally, a sequel is less compelling than the original. But in the case of O.J. Simpson’s legal saga, part two has proven more revealing than part one of the “Trial of the Century.” While the civil trial, which seeks money for emotional damages, is fundamentally different from last year’s criminal proceedings, there is ample room for comparison. As a new cast of lawyers struggle to answer the same questions, new strategies and tactics have emerged. But the greatest contrast is in the way the judge has managed his courtroom.
Civil trial Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki was determined to avoid the media circus that plagued the criminal trial. He immediately banned cameras from the courtroom, imposed a gag order and consistently reprimands anyone who violates his orders. In comparison, he makes Lance Ito look more like a talk show host than a judge. Under Fujisaki, the civil trial has progressed in half the time of the criminal trial and has focused on testimony and evidence, rather than the bickering and side bar conferences.
Without big-name lawyers playing to the camera and witnesses selling stories to tabloids, the civil trial has produced more hard evidence than the criminal trial. Though banning cameras in the courtroom limits first-hand accounts of the civil trial, it also curbs the kind of hearsay that surrounded the evidence during the criminal trial.
In a daring move, Fujisaki forbade the Mark Fuhrman evidence, eliminating the race card that was pivotal to the criminal trial defense. Fujisaki said the defense could not introduce a witness just to discredit him. The move forced the trial to focus more on the defendant and the evidence. Simpson took the stand for the first time last week and provided what the public wanted to hear all along — Simpson’s defense in his own words.
Simpson testified that he did not have a substantiated alibi during the reported time of the murders, and he said he was “responsible” for the 1989 New Year’s Eve incident that left Nicole Brown Simpson beaten and bruised. In addition, crucial witness Brian (Kato) Kaelin expanded on his sketchy testimony from the first trial, bolstering the prosecution.
The Simpson defense in the criminal trial relied on every tactic imaginable to raise reasonable doubt. But Fujisaki’s restrictions on the Fuhrman evidence and theories about other possible killers forced the civil trial defense to use a new tactic — blaming the victim. The defense reheated the domestic violence issue, suggesting that Nicole Brown Simpson led a risky lifestyle in the months preceding her death. As a result, the focus of the civil trial has been on the relationship between Simpson and Nicole for both the prosecution and the defense.
Though the O.J. Simpson civil trial may not produce a different verdict or a final judgment on the case, it repairs damages inflicted on the judicial system by the circus of the criminal trial. With the expediency of a no-nonsense judge and lawyers who are kept on task, the lower-profile Simpson civil trial has proved that the American judicial system not only depends heavily on a judge’s discretion, but it can work somewhat efficiently.