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Bar Takes Steps Against 2 Lawyers in Simpson Trial, Warns Third

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The State Bar of California on Thursday recommended public reproval of Barry Scheck and Carl E. Douglas, two of the defense attorneys in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, and advised Robert Tourtelot, a former lawyer for witness Mark Fuhrman, that Tourtelot’s conduct potentially violated bar rules.

Scheck, who may fight the recommendation, should be punished for, in effect, participating as an attorney in the Los Angeles Superior Court murder trial without a valid license to practice law in California, according to Judy Johnson, chief trial counsel for the bar. She said Douglas, who has accepted the ruling, is being punished for abusing the subpoena powers granted to attorneys.

Tourtelot received a letter advising him that his public condemnation of racist remarks by Fuhrman came close to violating bar rules prohibiting a lawyer from taking any public position that might prove detrimental to a client.

Public reprovals fall far short of the bar’s maximum penalty--disbarment. But they are considered more significant than the lightest penalty--a private reproval. A public reproval becomes part of an attorney’s permanent bar record and could be taken into consideration in any future actions against him or her.

The letter sent to Tourtelot is considered cautionary rather than punitive.

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Scheck, whose offices are in New York, could not be reached for comment. Douglas’ Wilshire district office said he was not available.

Tourtelot objected to the bar’s action against him.

“I have violated no canon of ethic or rules of professional conduct,” he said Thursday. “This [letter] is a perfect example of why the state bar should be dissolved.”

In all, almost 300 complaints were received by the bar against 10 of the prosecution and defense attorneys in the Simpson murder trial, Johnson said. Most of the complaints were from the public, she said, and most centered around what the lawyers said in court during the trial.

“It’s fair to say that every lawyer who appeared on television during the trial was the subject of some kind of complaint,” she said. “People didn’t like what they were advocating.”

Johnson said the bar investigates 5,000 to 7,500 complaints a year, ultimately taking disciplinary action in about 2,500 of them.

The bar’s investigation of the Simpson murder trial began after the courtroom proceedings ended. The probe was carried out by a team of bar attorneys and staff members, who sorted through transcripts and videotapes and talked to a number of witnesses.

No action was taken against any of the best-known lawyers--people such as defense attorneys Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. and Robert Shapiro and prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. And none of the courtroom remarks by any of the attorneys were considered worthy of state bar action.

“But after investigating all the allegations, we concluded that three of the 10 lawyers--Scheck, Douglas and Tourtelot--deserved some form of state bar reaction,” Johnson said.

The investigation revealed that Scheck practiced law for eight months in California during the trial while not an active member of the state bar, Johnson said. She said Douglas was found to have violated bar rules by subpoenaing a witness to appear at his office, instead of the courthouse, and by allowing a subpoena to be issued by his staff without first reviewing and signing it.

Johnson said Douglas has acknowledged the public reproval, “basically admitting the facts and violations, and accepting the punishment.”

Scheck has yet to respond to the bar’s recommendation. If he refuses to accept it, the bar will conduct a trial to determine if the reproval should become part of his file.

The “directional” letter was sent to Tourtelot after Johnson reviewed a statement written by the attorney in reaction to taped conversations in which his client, former Police Det. Fuhrman, boasted of brutalizing and framing suspects, manufacturing probable cause and singling out minorities for mistreatment.

Tourtelot, who for months had been an outspoken and aggressive advocate of Fuhrman, wrote that he was “profoundly disgusted and horrified” by his client’s comments and could no longer defend him.

Johnson said Thursday that attorneys “have a duty to set aside personal feelings” and avoid “taking a public position that might be adverse to the client.” She said the bar’s letter to Tourtelot was “not technically a form of discipline,” but should be considered “an admonishment that he came close to violating the rules.”

In his objection to the bar’s action, Tourtelot stressed his respect for the minority community.

“I want the citizens of this country to know that I do not condone his [Fuhrman’s] language,” Tourtelot said.

Scheck, 47, a graduate of Yale University and the Boalt Hall School of Law at UC Berkeley, is highly regarded for his work using DNA testing to exonerate and free falsely accused felons.

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The pugnacious Scheck attracted national attention during the murder trial with his withering, eight-day cross-examination of LAPD criminalist Dennis Fung. By the time Scheck was finished with him, Fung was reeling, and the prosecution’s “mountain” of physical evidence against the former football star was starting to crumble.

The fast-talking New Yorker’s successful attacks on Fung and other prosecution witnesses spawned a new word in the legal lexicon. Lawyers now sometimes describe a witness torn apart on the stand as having been “Schecked.”

Douglas, 42, worked for the Federal Communications Commission in Washington and the federal public defender’s office in Los Angeles before joining Cochran’s law offices.

After undergraduate studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., he earned his law degree at Boalt Hall. A member of the California Assn. of Black Lawyers, he received the Loren Miller Award as the outstanding black attorney of the year in 1994.

Tourtelot, 62, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Santa Clara before earning a law degree at UC’s Hastings College of Law. He was a judge pro tem in Los Angeles Municipal Court from 1984 to 1990.


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