Seems Like Old Times

JUDGE HIROSHI FUJISAKI HAS WON kudos for keeping the O. J. Simpson civil trial relatively incident-free. But even he isn't immune to the same malady--call it acute jury fever--that flattened criminal-trial Judge Lance Ito. The jury was into its fourth day of apparently painstaking deliberations last week when the disease struck. By the end of the week, Fujisaki had dismissed one juror, directed the new jury to start from scratch and ordered an investigation into possible jury tampering. Oh, he also turned down a defense request for a mistrial and a plaintiffs' request for jury sequestration. And he took time to scold the lawyers for talking to reporters. This trial, the judge learned, was never meant to go gently into the night.

The week had begun routinely, if emotionally, with the lawyers wrapping up their arguments in a duel of rhetorical flourishes. Then the jury retired to deliberate on whether Simpson is responsible for the deaths of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. It was soon clear that this jury was not about to repeat the criminal jury's quick judgment--maybe intentionally, to avoid the same criticism. As deliberations stretched into days, jurors asked to review an array of trial evidence, including a video of the crime scene, Simpson's bedroom and technical DNA testimony.

Then the trial reverted to the chaotic days of the criminal case. First there were reports of possible jury tampering. Two jurors were approached--one by fax, one by phone--and urged to contact an agent, Bud Stewart, who had represented two former criminal jurors. Stewart and the former criminal jurors, Brenda Moran and Gina Rosborough, deny sending the letter; it was supposed to have been sent after the trial, they said. "Only a fool" would release it now, Stewart told NEWSWEEK. Meanwhile, Moran's father, James Moran Sr., said he had warned his daughter to "stay away" from Stewart. But the controversy just happened to publicize a book by Moran and Rosborough, scheduled for April.

Fujisaki wasn't amused. The jurors' names are supposed to be secret. He sent sheriff's deputies to search Moran's home and the publisher's office. Still, the judge, feeling no harm was done, didn't remove any of the civil-trial jurors. That happened the next day, for a totally unrelated reason. He dismissed Rosemary Caraway, 62, the only African-American juror, for failing to disclose during jury selection that her daughter works as a legal secretary for the Los Angeles district attorney's office--the same one that prosecuted Simpson at his murder trial. The D.A.'s office said it had just discovered the connection, though it didn't say how. Caraway was replaced by a 37-year-old Asian-American male computer programmer who has done postgraduate work. In jury selection he described himself as "neutral," though he said there was a possibility blood was planted. Black females strongly supported Simpson at his criminal trial, but plaintiffs viewed Caraway favorably--her late husband was a retired parole officer--and had tried to keep her on the jury.

Fujisaki didn't want a mistrial. He expressed concern, telling the jury that sometimes in long trials "things unravel." But he wouldn't sequester the jurors and instead somberly warned them against watching TV or reading news accounts. (He also nixed weekend deliberations. "You're a New York lawyer," he told the Brown family's attorney John Kelly. "I guess you're not familiar with California law.") The Goldman family's lawyer Daniel Petrocelli had another reason for urging sequestration. News reports at the end of the week said that Roger Martz, an FBI laboratory technician who was a key witness in Simpson's criminal trial, had been disciplined after criticism of his work in the Oklahoma City bombing case. A source on the plaintiffs' side told NEWSWEEK that they "would be concerned" if jurors heard about Martz's problems. Even at this stage in the Simpson trial, it seems, there's no rest for the wary.