November 15, 1995
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Anne McDermott and wire reports
SANTA MONICA, California (CNN) -- A hearing in the wrongful death civil suits against O.J. Simpson was beginning Wednesday in front of a new judge, in a new courtroom, and with several new attorneys arguing the issues.
Simpson was acquitted by a criminal court jury on October 4 in the June 12, 1994, stabbing deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, but their families are suing him for financial damages over the murders. Unlike criminal courts, where juries must find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, civil court panels have more leeway. The burden of proof in wrongful death suits requires only a "likelihood" that the defendant was responsible for the deaths.
Simpson attorney Robert Baker is seeking a protective order to seal all depositions, including Simpson's, that will be gathered during the case. In court papers, Baker argues that the intense media scrutiny means that the leaking of any information from the depositions will make it "virtually impossible to obtain an impartial jury." Baker also maintains the testimony of witnesses could be affected and he'll ask that Simpson's deposition not be videotaped.
Attorneys for Fred Goldman, Goldman's birth mother Sharon Rufo and Nicole Brown Simpson's father, Louis Brown, had intended on videotaping the deposition in addition to having it transcribed. But a videotape will be too tempting to release to the media, causing Simpson to be "irreparably harmed," Baker wrote in court papers filed Monday. "As in the criminal matter, every legal pundit will dissect each and every syllable, blink of an eye, sneeze, etc."
Attorney Daniel Petrocelli, representing Fred Goldman, will argue against the sealing of depositions because Simpson has consistently courted the public and media to proclaim his innocence. (104K AIFF sound or 104K WAV sound) In court papers, Petrocelli noted excerpts from Simpson's book, "I Want to Tell You," as well as his post-verdict phone calls to various news organizations, including CNN and the New York Times. Attorneys for Sharon Rufo and Louis Brown also will argue against sealed depositions, as will media attorney Kelli Sager, acting on behalf of several news media organizations.
On another issue, the defense has asked that the individual civil suits be consolidated into one case. The Goldman and Rufo suits already have been combined, but the "survival action" filed by Louis Brown is set to be heard separately. A survival action seeks damages on behalf of victims for their pain and suffering. A wrongful death suit seeks damages for the family members of the victim who have suffered the loss.
Goldman's attorney will argue against consolidation, saying there are substantial differences between the Goldman and Brown cases and that the Goldman/Rufo suit will be ready to go to trial much earlier than the Brown suit. John Kelly, an attorney for Louis Brown, said he doesn't oppose combining the suits if an agreement can be reached on the trial date. Fred Goldman also has filed a survival action on behalf of his son's estate.
Court papers filed by attorneys for both Goldman and Brown also ask that all evidence seized from Simpson in the criminal case be turned over to the civil court. The evidence -- everything from Reebok sneakers to a fake goatee and mustache -- is currently in the custody of the Los Angeles Police Department, the district attorney's office and Judge Lance Ito's court. Petrocelli and Kelly say the evidence may be used in the civil cases and should not be returned to Simpson. Simpson's attorney argues that Simpson should not be deprived of his personal property any longer in light of his acquittal on all criminal charges.
A television camera will record Wednesday's hearing, but unlike Simpson's criminal trial, there will be no live gavel-to-gavel coverage. Once the proceedings are over, tape will be distributed to news organizations.
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