Chris Darden: Failing The Accountability Test and Making the Unethical Quote of the Week, Too

I feel sorry for Chris Darden.

It’s all Johnny Cochran’s fault.

Like Monica Lewinsky and others, he was living a normal personal and professional life  until events beyond his control  thrust him to the center ring of a media circus, and the bright lights of celebrity and hyper-scrutiny derailed his life forever. As a young prosecutor, he could have made many worse errors than his infamous gamble of allowing O.J. Simpson to try on the murder gloves found at the scene of Nicole Simpson’s and Ron Goldman’s death, and been able to learn and move on. But his  blunder was on live TV, during the most watched trial in history. Master defense attorney Johnny Cochran turned it into a ditty (“If the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit”) that found immortality in law school classes, history books and “Seinfeld,” and Chris Darden, working lawyer, became celebrity road-kill. (So did his colleague Marcia Clarke. Seeing today, bleached, botoxed and barely recognizable, desperately trying to eke out a living as a D-list celebrity pundit, it becomes vividly clear that Simpson ruined more lives than the two he snuffed out that bloody night.)

So I understand why Darden, taking part in a panel discussion about the trial at Pace Law School in New York City, shocked his fellow panel members  and the audience by saying, “I think Johnnie tore the lining. There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.’s fingers couldn’t go all the way up into the glove.” Darden then asserted that the defense team had unsupervised custody of the glove before the infamous test, which is when he surmised that the tampering took place. I understand it, just as I understand a lot of terrible conduct that is still inexcusable.

Later, Darden said this was just a suspicion, and that he wasn’t accusing anyone of anything…you know, like Sen. Harry Reid wasn’t accusing Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes. Of course Darden was making an accusation. He was, in fact, suggesting in a public forum that Johnny Cochran, a distinguished and honored criminal defense attorney who is now dead and cannot defend himself, not only engaged in extreme professional misconduct by tampering with evidence, not only broke the law in doing so, but also conspired to loose a cold-blooded murderer on the public by rigging the trial. There are no professional rules of ethics that this conduct violates, but it was spectacularly and unforgivably unethical nonetheless. Chris Darden was ducking responsibility and accountability for an epic trial blunder—his— that helped free a killer, blaming another lawyer for it, impugning the character and professional conduct of that lawyer with no evidence, accusing the judge and justice system of permitting an unfair trail,  and doing so 20 years too late to be anything but sour grapes.   One of the surviving members of the defense team, Shawn Holley, quickly said as much in response:

“As members of the defense team, Carl Douglas and I were present in court on the day that Chris Darden asked O.J. Simpson to try on the glove.Mr. Darden’s self-serving assertion that Johnnie Cochran tampered with the glove–or any piece of evidence–is false, malicious and slanderous. Almost 20 years later, it seems Mr. Darden is still trying to exculpate himself from one of the biggest blunders in the history of jurisprudence.”

That is not all, however.

When Darden made his accusation, fellow panel member Alan Dershowitz said that if Darden had real evidence that the defense had tampered with the gloves, he also had an ethical obligation to report the misconduct to bar authorities, and to file a grievance that would have sparked an investigation and possible bar discipline. In an astounding response, Darden said he did not because that would be a “whiny-little-snitch approach to life” and it would not have changed anything. This is the most unethical comment I have heard from a lawyer in a long time, and perhaps ever. Would not have changed anything? If Darden knew that a criminal defense attorney was practicing law by tampering with evidence, his duty to his profession and the public was to expose him, so he couldn’t do any more damage. The fact that proving that the gloves were tampered with wouldn’t change the jury verdict should have nothing to do with the decision that an unethical, criminally dishonest lawyer, as Darden is asserting that Cochran was, be cut out of the justice system like a malignant tumor. That “whiny-little-snitch approach to life” is the codified duty of the legal profession to police its own members, and if the profession thinks like Darden—that is, thinks like an inner city gang member—then the privilege of  regulating its own members needs to be taken out of its hands. Darden didn’t report the evidence tampering because he had no evidence that it occurred.

The most pathetic aspect of Darden’s desperate efforts to excuse his own ineptitude in the Simpson trial is that his scurrilous allegation, even if it were true, wouldn’t make his decision to ask O.J. to try on the gloves any less foolish or irresponsible. The decision was a bad one from the moment he made it: it was a first year law school student moot court-level blunder: you never ask a question of a witness or do a demonstration in court unless you know what the results will benever, never, never. If, by some miracle, O.J. had quickly slid the blood-soaked, shrunken gloves over his already latex-gloved hands and announced with a shrug, “OK, you got me. I did it!,” Darden still had taken a reckless, unnecessary, incompetent gamble. An ethical man would admit it. Instead, he has chosen to try to smear the good name and reputation of the better man who made him look like an amateur at every turn during the trial, Johnny Cochran. What an ugly, cowardly, vindictive act.

I still feel sorry for Chris Darden.

But he’s a disgrace to the legal profession.



Graphic: Slate

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at



7 thoughts on “Chris Darden: Failing The Accountability Test and Making the Unethical Quote of the Week, Too

  1. Ooh this post is gonna receive many many comments. Few things are as divisive exhausted topics as the trial of century. I lie in wait.

  2. I couldn’t help noticing that Darden made this comment at a law school discussion panel that had been put together specifically to discuss the Simpson case. Perhaps he should just be thankful that 17 years after losing the case he can still milk it for publicity and probably an honorarium.

  3. If, by some miracle, O.J. had quickly slid the blood-soaked, shrunken gloves

    It should have already been known whether the gloves did indeed shrink. It would have been standard procedure to measure the gloves immediately upon retrieval, and again a few weeks later- just like any other physical evidence collected.

  4. Chris Darden cried and whined throughout the entire trial. He was obviously intimidated by Johnny Cochran, F Lee Bailey and Bob Shapiro.

  5. This trial was not about justice but racial injustice. If a man can lie to his family (about a secret 2nd family), why would he have a problem lying to you? Johnny took all of Orenthals’s white photos out of the house to present him as a AA sympathizer. Pure deception. Where’s the accountability? How long can we play the victim card for the sins of our fathers?

    • Johnny did lots of things, but a competent prosecution could have won that case. Joe Montana would have been acquitted under the same facts and botched prosecution. No question in my mind.

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