Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson by Jerrianne Hayslett
As the Los Angeles Superior Court’s media liaison, Jerrianne Hayslett had unprecedented access to the trial—and met with Judge Lance Ito daily—as she attempted, sometimes unsuccessfully, to mediate between the court and members of the media and to balance their interests. In Anatomy of a Trial, she takes readers behind the scenes to shed new light on people and proceedings and to show how the media and the trial participants changed the court-media landscape to the detriment of the public’s understanding of the judicial system.
Q: The Simpson trial remains a subject of national and international interest despite the fact that it occurred eighteen years ago. What does Anatomy of a Trial contribute to the discussion we are still having about the Simpson trial?
With the case embodying murder, money, mystery, celebrity, sex, race, a sports legend, and grandstanding lawyers against a Hollywood backdrop, Simpson became the hallmark for using the court as an entertainment venue. Comparisons with and attempts to replicate the made-for-TV Simpson phenomenon in subsequent trials with similar elements was and continues to be inevitable.
Anatomy of a Trial, with its in-person, behind-the-scenes observations and analysis, shows how everyone associated with that case contributed to the soap opera that gripped the public for nearly a year. The book includes ways the judiciary and the media can get through high-profile situations without damage to their reputations or credibility.
Q: The public has not been particularly sympathetic to Lance Ito since the trial’s beginning. Do you think Ito’s public treatment was unwarranted?
The public persona of Judge Ito is based almost entirely on television images, interpretation of his actions and supposedly learned opinions. Anatomy of a Trial examines Ito the man, the judge and the media analyst behind the black-robed TV portrait. My daily access to him and his understanding—and miscalculation— of the media provides a view that in many respects challenges the caricature captured in the box.
Q: How did Lance Ito’s personality and judicial style shape not only the events of the trial, but also the perception of those events?
Ito was selected as the Simpson-case judge specifically because of his quick grasp and knowledge of the law and his calm, deliberative courtroom demeanor. His judicial style is to give opposing sides wide latitude in presenting their cases, but within the dictates of the law and court rules. His style and manner is informed by his cultural heritage that stresses respect and courtesy and he expected the attorneys and media in the Simpson case to respond in kind. At the same time, he considered himself a public servant conducting the people’s business and believed they had a right to observe proceedings in his courtroom. When the Simpson case landed in his court he was an experienced high-profile-trial judge and veteran of intense media coverage. Although not oblivious to the gathering Simpson media storm, he believed it would subside once the initial phase of the trial was under way. He failed to recognize the tsunami it became until it inundated him and the court.
Q: The presence of the media in the Simpson trial affected the public’s perception of the proceedings in a profound way. What impact do you think this continues to have on high-profile trials?
The imprint of Simpson on the judiciary and, to a lesser extent, the media remains fresh and stinging. Many judges, to avoid being pilloried and second-guessed, saw the need to maintain control, not just of their courtrooms, but of how they are portrayed. They fear the unbridled and voracious media appetite they saw unleashed in the Simpson trial and keep their doors closed to camera coverage, if possible. That fear continues as court systems, state legislatures, and other countries cite the Simpson trial in banning cameras from their trial courts. As cases such as Terri Schiavo, Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, Martha Stewart and Casey Anthony have shown, the media have done little to redeem or reform themselves.
Anatomy of a Trial argues that the public became the ultimate loser because of the Simpson-media excesses. The nonstop media punditry infused with industry and individual-career promotion has left most people with poor understanding between media access and media intrusion. The book also includes examples of some judges who defied the camera-ban trend, and discusses a medium that is making courtroom cameras more acceptable to some members of the judiciary.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects or books readers can anticipate?
I keep current on key issues related to court-media and high-profile-case issues, which I blog about frequently on my “Anatomy of aTrial” blog. I contribute articles and essays to court and law-related publications and to general-interest media. I am also nearing completion of an historical fiction manuscript of a multiple lynching in the Midwest more than eighty years ago in which an African-American defendant has a far different court outcome than O.J. Simpson did in 1995.