In keeping with the spirit of this season of giving, Marcia Clark and Chris Darden should return the bonuses they received in the midst of their unsuccessful prosecution of O.J. Simpson.
Clark, Darden and Deputy Dist. Atty. William Hodgman received the bonuses--officially, an 11% temporary pay raise--in the middle of the long trial. Clark got $14,330, Darden $10,750 and Hodgman $17,760.
With the county in deep financial trouble, rank and file deputy district attorneys have been denied pay raises and are worried about layoffs. So it is understandable that the bonuses have created controversy in the D.A.'s office. But Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti strongly defends them.
"It was not done because of their working effort because other Simpson team members were working as hard," he told me this week. "It was done simply as a means to try to give them some comfort.
"Never have I seen such an invasion of the private lives of particular prosecutors and their families. Never in high-profile cases have I seen media going through the rubbish of prosecutors, trying to take pictures of prosecutors and their families in such a way that became very personal. . . . Chris had a member of his family dying of AIDS. That was in the Globe. They were invasive about that."
Still, Clark and Darden have been richly rewarded for their travail. Clark signed a $4.2-million book contract with Viking-Penguin. Darden landed one reportedly worth $1.3 million, and now is talking movie deal.
Book publishers obviously were taken with their dramatic, edgy courtroom personalities and their life stories, each marked by struggles to succeed.
Hodgman, lacking star quality and a heart-tugging biography, was denied such riches. While Clark and Darden dine at Spago and Morton's, Hodgman will be riding a crowded elevator down to the Criminal Courts Building cafeteria.
So maybe he should keep his bonus.
The best argument against the extra money came in a letter in The Informant, the rebellious underground newspaper of the D.A.'s office. It was addressed to Garcetti and signed by "Your Deputy District Attorneys." They, by the way, did not share my generous feelings toward the Hodgman bonus.
"What efforts justify a bonus?" they asked. "It can't be prosecuting double murderers. There are hundreds of us who have done that. Some of us have successfully prosecuted mass murderers.
"It can't be prosecuting celebrities because, once again, many have done so--from Christian Brando to Snoop Doggy Dogg to Todd Bridges.
"Perhaps it's high publicity cases. Yet those of us who have prosecuted the Menendez brothers, Charles Manson, the Hillside Stranglers, the Skid Row Slasher, William Bonin, the Night Stalker, the Hollywood Madam, the Twilight Zone, the Reginald Denny assault, the Rodney King incident, back as far as the Onion Field murders, the Robert Kennedy assassination and too many more cases to name are still waiting for our bonus checks.
"Is it the complexity of the case? A single crime scene is hardly a challenge when many of us routinely handle multiple crime scenes with no eyewitnesses, no murder weapons and victims and witnesses whose rap sheets are longer than the suspect.
"Sadly, we've all had our share of losses and hung juries, so that can't be the criteria . . .
"Is it length of involvement? Take a count of how many prosecutors have been involved in trials lasting more than six months. . . . Most of us had no law clerks and no jury consultants. We didn't have the luxury of having a team of attorneys to split up the evidence. . . . We worked weekend after weekend, night after night. . . . Of course, you wouldn't know what that's like, having tried only a handful of cases yourself."
Another letter-writer discussed Garcetti's concern over the impact of the Simpson trial on the prosecutors' families. The families of other deputy D.A.s have been disrupted, he wrote. He told how a prosecutor was the object of an unsuccessful contract murder attempt after successful prosecution of Mexican Mafia killers.
"Many security measures were taken for this deputy's protection over a long period of time--longer than the duration of the Simpson case," he added.
There's another reason why the new literary lions, Clark and Darden, should return the bonuses, now that they are moving on and probably won't return to the grinding D.A.'s office tasks.
Never before has the criminal justice system been under such strain. Faced with long jail terms from the new "three strikes" law, an increasing number of criminal defendants are demanding trials rather than pleading guilty. The deputy D.A.s are working longer hours than ever, as are the public defenders who handle much of the defense work in such trials.
The amount of money in the bonuses is too small to improve this bleak situation. But the symbolism might mean something to the lawyers left behind in the criminal courts.