Would Ito's Departure Throw O.J. Trial into Waste Bin?

Article excerpt

AND now the latest chapter in the trial that never ends.

That Judge Lance Ito will excuse himself from testimony in the O.J. Simpson trial involving his wife, a police captain in Los Angeles, is an appropriate step, legal experts say.

Whether it signals a major legal turning point in the nearly completed trial - requiring a mistrial, as prosecutor Marcia Clark suggests - is still not clear.

Yet the decision by Superior Court Judge John Reid to allow as evidence a tape recording of Detective Mark Fuhrman does mark a clear problem for the prosecution. The recording, which allegedly has the police officer using racial epithets and talking about planting evidence, could well force a jury to find that O.J. Simpson is not guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt," the standard for conviction. The recording also contains criticism of Judge Ito's wife, Capt. Margaret York, who had once supervised Fuhrman.

As for Ito's role, legal experts say that, technically, a judge in a typical homicide jury trial is not irreplaceable. Ito has not been a fact-finder on the bench whose loss would require months of "catch up" by a replacement judge. Rather, the judge in this case is an arbiter of legal rules who is charged with conducting a fair trial.

IN the media extravaganza of the O.J. trial, the public has grown attached to the familiar Ito sitting on the bench - has watched his style and grown familiar with his idiosyncracies. …