O.J. Faces a New Ball Game in His Upcoming Civil Trial Different Legal Standards, a Different Jury, Maybe a Different Verdict

By Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 26, 1996 | Go to article overview

O.J. Faces a New Ball Game in His Upcoming Civil Trial Different Legal Standards, a Different Jury, Maybe a Different Verdict


Daniel B. Wood, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Outside the ocean-view courthouse here, a man pauses in front of a small gallery of press photographers. Inside, jury selection continues for the civil trial of O.J. Simpson in proceedings that judge, defense, and prosecutors promise will be "very different" from the criminal trial that consumed local and global attention for the better part of 1995.

"I hope this trial goes smoothly, quietly, quickly," says the Santa Monica dentist who works in this cliffside town. "I don't want this community turned on its head again."

Between Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki and the standards of civil as opposed to criminal cases, the dentist will get his wish. While Judge Fujisaki has already put his personal - and more disciplined - stamp on the proceedings to come, the differences will not simply be a matter of courtroom style. The civil case Mr. Simpson now faces will be markedly different in legal terms and could result in a different verdict. Over media protests, Fujisaki banned cameras from the courtroom and imposed gag orders on trial participants to prevent them from commenting, quickly demonstrating how he will differ from his predecessor, Superior Court Judge Lance Ito. Despite Fujisaki's efforts, however, this trial at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, just a mile north of Simpson's mansion and a mile east of the condominium where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were found murdered on June 12, 1994, will probably be as closely watched. "In Mr. Simpson's first trial, the world got an unprecedented opportunity to understand the American criminal justice system," says Myrna Raeder, chair of the American Bar Association's Committee of Federal Rules of Procedure and Evidence. "Now it will get a chance ... to understand civil procedures," she says. "The ... difference is great." As jury selection proceeds over the next six weeks, legal analysts are hastening to explain to press and public how civil and criminal procedures will differ. The greatest difference is that while the criminal justice system is based on the premise that it's preferable to have a guilty person go free than have an innocent person be jailed or deprived of life, civil proceedings have no such bias. "When the penalty is no longer a life-and-death matter, the playing field for plaintiffs and defendants is more level," says Ms. …

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