Robert Kardashian, one of O.J. Simpson's closest friends, acknowledged Thursday that fellow defense team member Robert Shapiro at one point speculated whether Simpson should plead guilty to manslaughter if the prosecution ever offered a plea bargain.
On a day when Simpson began to stitch the fabric of his life--and finances--back together, Kardashian said Shapiro made the statement during a defense strategy session early on in the trial. As part of that scenario, Shapiro discussed whether Kardashian should implicate himself as an accessory to the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.
Kardashian said he vehemently objected to playing out such a plea scenario. Explaining that it was in a "what-if-the-prosecution-came-to-us" context, Kardashian said he told Shapiro: "Absolutely not. What would I plead to? I have done nothing."
The session was attended by a small group, including attorney Leroy (Skip) Taft and F. Lee Bailey.
Kardashian related that Shapiro said he was only throwing out ideas. "I told him that O.J. would never go for it, and it's not a subject to be brought up," Kardashian said.
The idea never went further, he said, and the prosecution was never involved.
Echoing earlier statements, Kardashian said he never looked into the garment bag he was seen carrying at Simpson's home after Simpson returned from his trip to Chicago.
Moreover, Kardashian said, "If [Simpson] came back from Chicago, knowing his house was ringed by reporters and the police were at his home . . . why would he bring bloody clothing--or whatever people think was in there--back to his home? If you think about it, it makes no sense.
"All I've done is be a friend," he said.
Shapiro could not be reached late Thursday to confirm Kardashian's account, but he has denied ever asking Simpson to consider a plea. "From Day One, O.J. told me he was innocent," Shapiro said earlier in the day. "I never asked him to plead anything other than not guilty."
Harvard Law School professor and defense team member Alan Dershowitz backed up Shapiro's account.
"I can say unequivocably that I never heard of any suggestion for a plea bargain, and I know for certain that if anybody ever even dared to suggest one to O.J., they would have been fired immediately," Dershowitz said.
Noting that he joined the defense team in mid-June, 1994, and participated in "most" of the defense meetings either by phone or in person, Dershowitz said: "O.J. was not thinking plea bargain, was not authorizing plea bargain. He was unequivocably demanding a trial and vindication."
Asked about Kardashian's comments, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said: "No one ever talked to any one of us in the D.A.'s office about a deal. We believed then and we still believe the evidence clearly proves murder. If they approached us about a manslaughter plea, we would have said no."
In another remarkable admission, Shapiro said in an interview with People magazine that he believed lead attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. had lost the case during his closing arguments, saying he thought the panel of 10 women and two men was "gonna give it to the defense up the wazoo."
While Cochran on Thursday appealed to the families of the victims to drop wrongful death lawsuits against the football great, Shapiro said Cochran's much-praised closing argument--a dramatic, zealous plea in which Cochran said it was the panel's civic duty to acquit Simpson--"patronized" the jury.
Stunned at Shapiro's comments to People, "Dream Team" member Carl Douglas refused to join the post-acquittal war of words.
"He said that?" Douglas said, pausing before adding, "I will choose not to dignify Bob's comments by offering a response, except to say that I'm flabbergasted, and I can't imagine why he is saying these things. I feel sorry for him. He apparently is far more troubled than even I imagined."
Against the backdrop of bickering and post-trial review:
* A Los Angeles city councilman called for reforms at the Los Angeles Police Department's much-maligned crime laboratory.
* The California State Bar launched an investigation into possible lawyer misconduct during the nine-month trial.
* Simpson struggled to find a taker for a series of pay-per-view interviews.
* Hundreds of lookie-loos continued to stake out Simpson's Brentwood mansion not knowing whether he is even there.
* Despite some early discussion of their verdict among some Simpson jurors, most clammed up and hired lawyers, refusing to talk unless they were paid.
* And U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno weighed in on possible ramifications of the Simpson verdicts, urging preservation of the current jury system.
Plan for Crime Lab
With Simpson's acquittal reviving longstanding criticism of the Los Angeles Police Department's crime lab, City Councilman Joel Wachs released a six-point plan to "immediately bolster" the troubled facility.
Wachs estimated that upgrading the lab's equipment and facilities, retraining and expanding its staff and garnering accreditation would cost about $1 million upfront and $1 million annually, but said, "I'm willing to pay whatever the cost is." He suggested as one possible source the Narcotics Trust Fund.
"We need a really major overhaul," said Wachs, who plans to introduce his plan in the form of a motion when the council meets next week. "I think the people [in the crime lab] have done wonders with what they have, but they really do not have the tools to do the job we're asking them to do.
"Things like [the Simpson acquittal] show the cost of not doing it, and the cost of not doing is greater than the cost of doing it," Wachs added. "The cost of not doing it, I'm fearful, will be an endless string of defense attorneys trying to use [the crime lab's weakness] to get their clients free. It will become known as 'the Simpson Defense.' People use the tactics available to them."
Mayor Richard Riordan asked Police Commission President Deidre Hill to "oversee a thorough assessment of the strengths, weaknesses and most urgent needs of the city's crime lab," using outside experts, if needed, and respond to a series of questions within 30 days.
"In my view, this lab must be equipped and staffed as needed to ensure that our officers and detectives receive the support they need to do their jobs," Riordan wrote in a letter to Hill.
State Bar Probe
In San Francisco, the State Bar of California announced that it is investigating allegations of attorney misconduct in the Simpson case involving lawyers on both sides. The probe was prompted by "numerous" complaints from the public, attorneys and judges during the trial, said Tracy K. Genesen, special assistant to the bar's chief trial counsel.
The Bar's investigation is in its early stages, Genesen said, and there has been no finding of wrongdoing by any attorneys during the trial, which was marked by a slew of heated exchanges by prosecution and defense lawyers.
Genesen declined to say whether those who complained included Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito, who remarked several times during the trial that some of the attorney's actions were dangerously close to qualifying as contempt. As far as Genesen knew, none of the lawyers in the Simpson case were among those who had filed complaints.
The bar's Rules of Professional Conduct forbid a number of actions by lawyers, including misleading a judge or jury, suppressing evidence and making public statements outside the courtroom likely to prejudice any proceedings.
A lead attorney has been assigned to the probe, and will review trial transcripts and videotapes and conduct interviews.
Asked whether such an investigation was unusual, Genesen said the Bar gets 75,000 complaints a year about California attorneys. Of those, "we will not open an investigation when it looks like it doesn't make any sense," she said. In this instance, the investigation already has met that threshold, she said.
Penalties for breaking the rules can range from a private reproof to disbarment, although disbarment is rare. Determining the level of discipline rests ultimately with the California Supreme Court.
If the Bar finds evidence of professional misconduct, the next step would be to file formal charges. State Bar disciplinary investigations are, by law, confidential until charges have been filed.
"We made a decision not to investigate . . . until the trial was over," Genesen said. "We would be unnecessarily disrupting the proceedings. There were issues of fairness to the defendant."
Tabloid Rumor Denied
Still reveling in his first extended visit with his children in more than a year, Simpson, through Kardashian, denied a report that he had sold pictures of Wednesday's reunion to a tabloid.
"Absolutely not," Kardashian said.. "I was there at the reunion. There was no camera. There were no pictures taken. There was no video. There were no cameras whatsoever. Whoever starts these things, they're wrong."
In his wide-ranging interview with The Times in his public relations firm's Century City offices, Kardashian discussed previously undisclosed details of his close friend's homecoming and first few days of freedom.
Without divulging where the reunion with his children took place or who brought the children from the home of their grandparents in Orange County, Kardashian described the meeting as "wonderful."
"Hugs, kisses, smiles--just what you would imagine," Kardashian said. "It was wonderful. . . . He just couldn't wait to put his arms around his children."
Kardashian, who met Simpson 25 years ago on a tennis court and who has had numerous business deals with him, said Simpson's agreement with the Brown family was that he would get the children back after the trial. Kardashian said he believed the children were returned to their grandparents, Lou and Juditha Brown, on Thursday.
"He and the Browns have always been close," Kardashian said, adding that Simpson had spoken to them since his release. "These are the grandparents and the aunts. I don't foresee O.J. taking the kids and never allowing the Browns to see them again. That isn't the relationship that they've had."
That said, Kardashian said the custody arrangement has yet to be worked out because Simpson was only interested in spending time with his family and he was not yet dealing with the legal issues.
Despite initial reports they would fight for custody, the Browns have since hinted they would not challenge Simpson if he wanted full custody of the children.
Saying Simpson strongly desires to talk to the public and tell his side of the story, Kardashian acknowledged that Simpson needs money to pay his enormous legal fees. If Simpson were able to set up pay-per-view interviews, Kardashian said, he probably would seize the opportunity.
"He has a lot of expenses and if people want to pay to hear him, that's up to their own discretion," Kardashian said.
Although Simpson's legal fees have been described as running into the several millions, Kardashian would not reveal the actual amount.
In the wake of death and kidnaping threats, Kardashian said he has retained security guards for his and his family's protection, and has hired the pricey Sitrick & Co. public relations firm, which reportedly charges $350 an hour and has represented companies and celebrities who need image-boosting.
While saying Simpson was serious about finding the real killer of his ex-wife and her friend--"he wants to know who did this"-- Kardashian did not provide details on how the search would begin or be conducted. He said Garcetti should not be so quick to deny that someone else committed the murders.
"How do 12 people make a decision in two hours? There wasn't enough evidence and they didn't feel that this was the man," Kardashian said.
Simpson also wants to meet the jury, Kardashian said. "He'd love to meet each one, shake each one's hand, give them a hug. He'd love to talk to them and find out what they think."
Most Jurors Secluded
Most jurors remained in seclusion amid reports that relatives or attorneys retained by them are negotiating lucrative deals with tabloid media.
The Globe, a supermarket tabloid, made large cash offers for Simpson jurors' stories before the verdicts were rendered Tuesday morning, a source said. The offers, delivered in sealed envelopes to jurors' homes by staff reporters, ranged from $30,000 to $120,000, the source said. Family members of more than one juror replied to the newspaper before the verdict.
Tony Frost, executive editor of the Globe, confirmed that the newspaper had delivered solicitation letters to jurors' homes early Tuesday, following phone contacts "late Monday." He said the discussions centered on obtaining an exclusive interview with the jurors about what went on during deliberations.
As of Thursday afternoon, Frost said: "We've spoken to representatives of half a dozen jurors, but have not yet struck any deals."
Steven A. Lerman, the attorney who briefly represented Rodney G. King in his lawsuit against the city, has been retained by at least two jurors seeking help with a barrage of media requests. Lerman said one of his clients, the 51-year-old forewoman, has been extremely upset to learn of the racial divisions that emerged over the trial and the verdict.
An army of media, including producers for network news and tabloid television shows, have been camped outside the forewoman's South-Central Los Angeles home since Tuesday. On Thursday, a family friend clashed with a free-lance photographer, ripping his camera from his hands and throwing the film on the driveway.
The friend told a reporter that the family would be more cooperative if they were offered free scampi dinners.
In Washington, D.C., the Justice Department's Civil Rights division and Atty. Gen. Reno elaborated on the scope of the agency's previously announced probe into the LAPD. The agency said it is investigating allegations of civil rights violations by the department, but has not decided whether to restrict its inquiry to a civil "pattern or practice" of misconduct or to conduct a criminal investigation.
In discussing the inquiry in guarded terms at her weekly meeting with reporters, Reno also urged that lawmakers "tread very, very carefully" before attempting to reform the jury system in the wake of the Simpson trial.
"The jury system has been with us for many, many years, and we should tread very, very carefully before reforming a system that is one very basic element of government of the people," Reno said.
Justice Department lawyers Thursday were reviewing files on a Nov. 18, 1978, incident involving ex-Detective Mark Fuhrman and other LAPD officers in which suspects were allegedly beaten and tortured after the shooting of two police officers in Boyle Heights.
They are considering whether to release the file of the investigation, which was closed in the spring of 1979 with no action being taken. Sources said the investigation was closed after witnesses declined to cooperate.