I Finally Saw “O.J.: Made In America,” And I Am Depressed

Inspired by the upcoming parole hearing, in which double knife-murderer O.J. Simpson is expected to be paroled (and should be), I decided to watch a much-praised documentary series that I had thus far avoided.

Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” (not to be confused with “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,”the dramatic TV mini-series starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the fallen football great, released the same year ) is a 2016 documentary produced for ESPN Films and their 30 for 30 series. I saw it a few days ago. I’m sorry I did.

Not that the film isn’t excellent, thorough, fair and though-provoking. It is. Nor was there too much in it that surprised me. Simpson defense attorney Carl Douglas gloating over how the defense team unethically and dishonestly altered Simpson’s home to deceive the jury made me want to punch him in his smug face, but I already knew about that outrageous tactic. Seeing Mark Furmin on the stand invoking the Fifth Amendment when he was asked whether he had ever planted evidence at a crime scene made me want to gag, but it made me want to gag when I saw it live. One more time, I was convinced that the prosecution had so botched the case that there was plenty of reasonable doubt for a jury to employ to acquit O.J., just as it was obvious from the trial that he was guilty as sin. All of this I expected.

I did not expect to be so emotionally troubled and ethically disoriented by the conclusion of the film, in which one African-American after another, most of them speaking in the present day, tells the camera with various levels of offensiveness that O.J.’s acquittal was a great moment for black America, a form of redemption, pay-back for centuries of abuse and decades of  discrimination by police and the justice system, proof that the system can work for African Americans and not merely against them, a well-earned poke in the eyes of white America, sweet vengeance and retribution, and a result to be honored and cherished as victory for blacks everywhere.

A prominent minister and civil rights leader actually compares Simpson’s acquittal to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. I wonder what Robinson would have thought about that comparison. Continue reading

Ethics Observations Upon Viewing “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”

oj-show

I never got to see all ten episodes of last year’s ambitious and star-studded mini-series about the O.J. Simpson trial before this weekend. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch them all in two nights. I watched most of the televised trial at the time, so the program brought back a lot of bad memories.

Overall the production was excellent, and some of the casting was creepily good, especially Sarah Paulson  as Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden, Kenneth Choi  as Judge Ito, Courtney B. Vance in a magnificent portrayal of Johnnie Cochran, Rob Morrow as
Barry Scheck,  Robert Morse, unrecognizable as Dominick Dunne, and Joseph Siravo as Fred Goldman. Unfortunately, Cuba Gooding, Jr., an excellent actor, is so unlike O.J. that it kept reminding us that this was a TV show. Nathan Lane and David Shwimmer also were unable to disappear sufficiently into their roles as F. Lee Bailey and Robert Kardashian. I couldn’t help thinking of “The Bird Cage” and “Friends.”

The script was  remarkably even-handed, and for the most part, accurate. However, there were three legal ethics howlers that require some exposition, as well as some other matters that came to mind.

1. The Defense’s Secret Redecoration of O.J.’s home.

In the episode “The Race Card,”  Johnnie Cochran was shown redecorating  O.J. Simpson’s house before the jury came for a judge-approved viewing. Pictures of half-nude models were replaced by benign photos of Simpson’s mother and children, and Cochran scattered pieces of African art around the rooms, taken from his own collection.

Could the lawyers do this? Of course not! It’s a visual lie, and an attempt to mislead the jury. Ito ordered that the heroic statute of Simpson in his back yard be covered with a sheet to avoid biasing the jury in favor of the defendant. Had the prosecution team suspected that Cochran had pulled such a stunt, as the dramatization suggested, it would have alerted the judge, a mistrial would have been likely, and Cochran as well as every lawyer involved would have faced serious bar discipline.

The question is, did this really happen as portrayed? Defense attorney Carl Douglas said in a Dateline NBC’s special THE PEOPLE vs. OJ SIMPSON: What the Jury Never Heard that it did, and that he organized the redecoration. Douglas said the intention was to make the estate look “lived-in and stand with all of its regalness so that the jurors would say ‘O.J. Simpson would not have risked all of this for this woman.'”  Douglas said that “photos of Simpson with white women were swapped out for pictures of him with black people. A Norman Rockwell painting from Johnnie Cochran’s office and a bedside photo of Simpson’s mother were placed in prominent view.”

Douglas should be suspended from the practice of law at the very least for this confession of outrageous ethics misconduct. (Cochran, who is dead, is beyond punishment.) Clark, Darden and Ito also failed their duties to justice and the public by allowing such a deception to warp the jurors’ perceptions. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Marcia Clark

Bill Buckner's error: he didn't kill anyone, but to many Red Sox fan, this was worse.

Bill Buckner’s error: he didn’t kill anyone, but to many Red Sox fan, this was worse.

“I did not want [Simpson] to try on the evidence gloves. I never did,” failed O.J. prosecutor Marcia Clark tells”Dateline NBC” in a TV special airing this week. “That was [Darden’s] call. … I was miserable from the moment that Chris said, ‘No, I’m doing this.’ And I never expected anything good to come of it.”

Unbelievable. How petty, unfair and low of Clark at this late date to start trying to blame others on the prosecuting team for losing a murder case that should have been won! It is decades later, the story is part of U.S. legal, racial and cultural lore, and everyone has known that Darden was tricked into the bloody gloves trap by Johnnie Cochran for almost all of that time. There is no justification for Clark to turn on her colleague now. Continue reading

“Twelve Angry Men,” A Million Angry Fools, and the Jury System

Their defendant was probably guilty too.

Ethics Alarms All-Star Lianne Best sent me this link about a member of the Casey Anthony jury who is going into hiding because of all the hate and criticism being directed at jury members and their controversial verdict. Her plight, which must be shared by other members of the much-maligned jury, highlights the unethical, not to mention ignorant, reaction of the public to the Florida ex-mother’s narrow escape from a murder conviction she almost certainly deserved.

The problem begins with publicity. We may need to re-examine the logic behind broadcasting high-profile cases. The combination of live courtroom feeds and quasi-semi-competent commentary gives viewers the mistaken belief that they are qualified to second guess the jury, and they are not. They are not because the jury is in the courtroom, and the viewers aren’t. The jury and TV watchers see different things; individuals communicate different emotions and reactions in person than they do on camera. There is only one fair and sensible way to answer those on-line instant polls that ask, “Do you think Casey Anthony should be found guilty?”, and that is “I don’t know.”

Most of all, the viewers and pundits are not present in the jury room. Continue reading

Marcia Clark, Exploiting the Anthony Verdict for Her Own Sake

Marcia Clark. OK, this really isn't Marcia, but the real picture of her doesn't look like her either.

Marcia Clark’s article on the Casey Anthony verdict is so tainted with obvious conflicts of interest that it should have been rejected by The Daily Beast…or rather would be rejected by any website more selective and less shameless than the Daily Beast. This would be any fair site that does not deal in over-the-top opinion as a matter of course.

Marcia, like her colleague Chris Darden, is a rather tragic figure these days. The former lead prosecutor in the O.J. case is struggling to make it as a pundit, freshly botoxed and rendered almost unrecognizable so as to be fetching in those close-ups. After she sold the inevitable cash-in book about the Trial of the Century, she has wandered in the C-List celebrity wilderness, and will soon join Newt Gingrich and William Shatner as a celebrity novelist. She will be remembered, quite correctly, as the prosecutor who botched the O.J. murder trial, even if we give Darden an assist for the gloves debacle. (Why cable news shows insist on recycling failures as experts is an enduring mystery, the mystery being “how can the producers look themselves in the mirror after choosing recognizable flops over less well-known but more accomplished authorities?”)

But Clark apparently saw an opportunity in the Casey Anthony verdict to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation, and grabbed it. The result is “Worse Than O.J.!”, a new low in self-serving analysis. Continue reading

Unethical Blog Post of the Week: “But What About Caylee?”

Sad but true: the trial's purpose was not to find justice for Caylee.

If I responded to even one out of a hundred ethically muddled, logically addled posts by the hoard of bloggers in cyberspace, I’d have time for nothing else. Now and then, however, I am directed to a post that typifies the kind of free-floating, fact-starved gut sentiment that rots public discourse in America and that helps keeps the public confused and panicked.

In this case, I was directed to the post by the blogger herself, who managed to annoy me by accusing my post on the Casey Anthony jury of being callous to the victim in the case, two-year old Callie. I re-read my post; there wasn’t anything callous toward the child in any way. Puzzled, I went to the blogger’s page, a blog by someone who calls herself wittybizgal, and called Wittybizgal. Sure enough, there it was: an anguished lament about the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial entitled, “But What About Callie?”

The post is frightening, because I am certain that this kind of non-reasoning is epidemic in the United States, nourished by touchy-feely bloggers, pundits and columnists and made possible by the ingrained habit of having opinions without knowledge. Since their opinions are not supported by facts or reasoning, they can’t be debated. If you aren’t persuaded, you’re just mean, that’s all. That’s no way to decide what is right and wrong, but it certainly a popular way. Here is wittybizgal’s argument, one fallacious step at a time: Continue reading

Ethics Heroes: The Casey Anthony Jury

America saved Casey Anthony, and we should be glad it did.

A Florida jury pronounced Casey Anthony not guilty of murder, aggravated child abuse or aggravated manslaughter in connection with the 2008 death of her two-year-old daughter, Caylee. It did find that she had lied to investigators and police, which was well-established during the trial.

Did she murder her daughter, as the prosecution claimed? Oh, sure she did; I don’t think any of the jury members will be asking Anthony to babysit for their kids any time soon. But the case against her was circumstantial. She was proven to be a liar, irresponsible, feckless, self-centered, deluded and callous, and the prosecution’s theory made a lot more sense that the defense’s alternative scenario. Still, there was not enough evidence to find Casey Anthony guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s the standard, not “it’s almost certain that she did it.” Despite all the media pundits who said it would be a slam-dunk conviction, despite all the community sentiment to make the party girl mother pay with her life for killing her child, the evidence to meet the intentionally tough standard of American justice just wasn’t there.

Already, reporters and commentators are comparing the verdict to the O.J. Simpson trial. Wrong. Continue reading