Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Quiet Stage Set for Simpson's Civil Trial

SANTA MONICA, California -- They will all be there again: the bloody gloves, the size 12 Bruno Magli shoes, the DNA tests, the blood-splattered socks, all the familiar icons of the sensational double-murder trial that so transfixed Americans.


But the O.J. Simpson sequel, the civil trial that begins here Tuesday, will be missing one major element: the television cameras that made Simpson's first-degree murder trial a national obsession that regularly bested daytime soap operas in viewer ratings. Simpson went home a free man last October after being acquitted of charges that he fatally stabbed his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, on June 12, 1994. The trial has come to be seen as a symbol of media excess, of courtroom posturing by lawyers who turned a murder case into a political debate over police racism, and of what can happen to the legal system when a judge loses control of his courtroom.


The wrongful death trial will be vastly different from Simpson's nine-month murder trial. It will not be held in urban Los Angeles, but in the quieter seaside city of Santa Monica. The judge this time is a no-nonsense jurist who is determined to keep the proceedings out of the limelight. There will be no cameras, no prime-time courtroom television coverage, and -- because of a "gag" order -- none of the emotion-charged hallway news conferences by opposing sides that helped turn the criminal trial into a media feeding frenzy.


Most important, the man at the center of the trial -- former football superstar and celebrity Simpson -- will be compelled to testify under oath. During the criminal trial, Simpson chose not to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination; no such privilege is available to him in a civil lawsuit.


"The procedures will be different, the rules will be different, the star witness will be different and all of the players will be different," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a University of Southern California Law School professor and frequent legal analyst of Simpson's murder trial.


Although this trial, like its predecessor, is also about establishing guilt or innocence, it holds no danger to Simpson of loss of liberty. Instead, it will be about money -- lots of it.


The families of the victims are claiming that despite his acquittal, Simpson committed the murders and should be held accountable by paying them damages. While the law does not consider it double jeopardy to have a civil trial following an acquittal, such wrongful death lawsuits are rare.


The judge in this trial, Hiroshi Fujisaki, 60, has already put his imprimatur on the case by barring lawyers, witnesses and other parties to the lawsuit from discussing the case in public.


The jury in this trial will not be sequestered, and Fujisaki wants to ensure that the panel is exposed to a minimum of news about the case.


Fujisaki, who is known for moving cases along, has also made it clear that he will not tolerate attorneys who engage in rambling arguments or attempt to introduce irrelevant material. Even though most witnesses have already told their stories in pretrial depositions, lengthy arguments over what testimony is admissible could stretch the civil trial out for six months or longer, legal experts said.


The playing field this time will not be to Simpson's advantage.


For one thing, only nine of the 12 jurors will be needed to determine that Simpson is responsible for the deaths and therefore should pay the victims' families huge sums that could put bankrupt him. Despite his mounting legal bills, Simpson remains a millionaire, although records of his exact worth are under court seal.


While criminal trials require a jury to determine guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," the standard in this case will be only a "preponderance of evidence." This means that if nine of 12 jurors agree it is "more probable than not" that Simpson caused the deaths, then he must be held liable.