By: M.L. Stein
A SAN FRANCISCO state senator has made his contribution to the roiling controversy over the media’s role in the O.J. Simpson murder case.
Sen. Quentin Kopp, regarded as a freedom of information advocate, has introduced a bill that would subject trial lawyers to professional discipline for making out-of-court statements which he or she “knows or reasonably should know will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing” a court proceeding.
The legislation, taken largely from the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, covers several statements made by both sides to the media in the Simpson proceedings.
Kopp has indicated he also would like a law preventing witnesses from selling their stories to the media before or during a trial ? as has happened in the Simpson case.
Such a measure already has been introduced in the Legislature by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. The State Bar Board of Governors voted to ask Kopp to hold off on his bill.
Although not mentioning the Simpson case, the action was understood in the legal community to reflect the board’s misgivings about presenting a measure tied to a pending case.
The Los Angeles Daily Journal, a legal newspaper, quoted board member Michael Case as saying: “We want a fair rule for all cases ? not one tied to a particular case.”
Attorney Terry Francke, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, acknowledged Kopp’s authorship of a bill closing loopholes in California’s open meetings law but termed his latest proposal an example of “misplaced concern.”
“I don’t believe the rights of O.J. Simpson or anyone remotely like him are in the kind of jeopardy Sen. Kopp’s bill is intended to avert,” Francke stated. “Mr. Simpson’s plight is getting the attention it is simply because he has always been an intensely admired celebrity. There should be no difficulty in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the world in finding twelve men and women disposed to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
If anything, Francke contended, Kopp’s bill might even make it tougher for Simpson’s defense team, “which is nothing if not adept in sustaining public sympathy for its client and undermining the force of the case against him.”
Simpson’s lawyers, according to a recent New Yorker article, intend to inject allegations in the upcoming trial that Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhurman tampered with evidence to make Simpson appear guilty and that the officer has made racist remarks in the past.
Recently, Simpson offered a $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer or killers of Simpson’s wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. The former football great is charged with both murders.
Francke stressed that Simpson is entitled to a fair trial but added, “Other defendants have far fewer advantages, and gagging lawyers will seldom help them. Their best hope ? and Mr. Simpson’s ? is in enlightened citizens, and you don’t grow them in the dark.”