"EXPECT THE WORST," Judge Lance Ito warned from the bench.
He wasn't preparing the prosecution or the O.J. Simpson defense team for the jury verdict in the double-murder trial. Actually, the jury already had returned a verdict of not guilty on that Tuesday, Oct. 3.
It was the jury members Ito ? no fan of the press ? was addressing, telling them that the media would pursue them to their homes, seeking interviews, even though they had responded to the judge's questionnaire that they did not want to talk to the attorneys or reporters.
And Ito was right. About an hour later, Los Angeles radio station KNX reported that one juror, Brenda Moran, made brief remarks to the press at her Compton home. Scores of media personnel camped in front of other jurors' houses, interviewing their relatives when a juror would not come out.
The judge's remarks capped an adrenalin-driven day for the nearly 200 print and broadcast representatives in and around the Criminal Courts Building. For many of them, it was the biggest story of their careers.
By 7 a.m., three hours before the verdict was read, the courthouse parking lot and the front of the building were thronged with media, gawkers, vendors of O.J. memorabilia, and police.
Up in the cramped, 12th floor pressroom, every seat was occupied and several journalists crowded the corridor outside it. The few lucky enough to get coveted courtroom seating headed for the ninth floor where the eight-month trial was held.
Adam Pertman of the Boston Globe yelled out to the room at large that his laptop computer broke and did anyone have a spare one?
David Margolick of the New York Times, whose parent company owns the Globe, came to his rescue, offering to share his desktop machine.
Before the verdict, there was an air of jollity in the pressroom. Reporters who had worked together for months greeted each other warmly.
"We made it," one told another.
"I'm back," announced a newsman.
It was like an early reunion party.
But there was still the mounting excitement that defines a big story, all the more because virtually no one had expected such an early verdict.
"I was shocked," exclaimed Newsday's Shirley Perlman.
"I was almost caught off base," said Tom Elias of Scripps Howard News Service.
"I had an interview scheduled today with Barbara Taylor Bradfield [a romance novelist] but I'm sure she understands why I had to cancel it."
Associated Press special correspondent Linda Deutsch, a veteran reporter of many major trials, said she too was stunned when the jurors came in and asked for verdict sheets Oct. 2, after only four hours of deliberation.
"I asked [deputy district attorney] Bill Hodgman if there could possibly be a verdict coming or had someone merely forgotten to leave the sheets in the jury room," she recounted. "He called the request 'bizarre,' " Deutsch related.
"I was shocked. I could not believe what I was hearing when the jury said they had reached a verdict," said Jose Libaldo of La Opinion in Los Angeles.
The nostalgic might see in the pressroom atmosphere echoes of The Front Page and other old newspaper melodramas. As 10 a.m. neared, the chatter quickly subsided and eyes fixed on the TV monitors.
"Quiet," someone shouted when muted bits of conversation were still heard.
When the verdict was read, a collective gasp was heard.
"Oh, my God," a female reporter cried out.
But this wasn't The Front Page. It was the high-tech journalism of the 1990s ? no clattering typewriters, no rushing out to telephones. Instead, the reporters got down to business, pecking at their laptops, a few phoning their offices from their desks. Some had late afternoon or early evening deadlines and could still gather material to round out the story.
Still, vestiges of old-time newspapering remain. The Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Times and the Long Beach Press-Telegram put out extras, as did numerous newspapers around the country.
The News' eight-page broadsheet with the banner "Not Guilty" was hawked free shortly after noon on the courthouse steps. The Times wrapped its extra around its early morning edition to "freshen up the product," according to circulation director Jack Klunder.
Two major press conferences followed the verdict. One held in Judge Ito's courtroom ? without Ito ? was surrounded by the same kind of selection and security that marked the trial from the beginning. Media staffers had to have passes issued by Superior Court public information director Jerrianne Hayslett in order to attend. In return, reporters had to surrender their drivers licenses to sheriff's deputies, who held them until the credentials were returned at the end of the news conference.
In the courtroom, the players were lead defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran and other team members, including F. Lee Bailey, and Simpson's relatives, among them his mother and his son, Justin, who read a statement from his father saying that he would work to find the actual murderers of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Simultaneously, in the 18th floor offices of District Attorney Gil Garcetti, he and chief prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden were holding their own press conference. Garcetti said he was satisfied that Simpson had killed his ex-wife and Goldman and would not look for another killer.
In terms of sheer numbers, the day was dominated by the broadcast media, which glutted the courthouse steps in a mass not seen since the trial's opening. They mostly waited, converging on anyone connected to the trial coming in or out.
This went on into the afternoon, well after the verdict, the press conferences, and after Simpson had been whisked back to the jail, where he picked up his personal belongings and was released.
After being told by a police officer that all the trial principals had left the building, one cameraman was asked why he stayed.
"They [his station] want me to," he responded.
In one of its Extra sidebars, Daily News television critic Ray Richmond reported that the Simpson trial had attracted as many as 130 million viewers in a single day and had produced "dramatic ad-rate increases."
"The trial has proven a boon to virtually every television station and network that has given it comprehensive attention" since the proceedings began, Richmond wrote.
By: M.L. Stein Judge Lance Ito warns jurors to 'expect the worst' from reporters who'll pursue them for comments sp.