May 16, 2013
By KEN RITTER | Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The last time O.J. Simpson was in a Las Vegas courtroom, he stood next to defense attorney Yale Galanter before being handcuffed and hauled off to prison for up to 33 years.
On Monday, the former football hero returns to Clark County District Court with a different set of lawyers hoping to convince a judge that Galanter shouldn't have been handling his armed robbery-kidnapping case — that the lawyer who was paid nearly $700,000 for Simpson's defense had a personal interest in preventing himself from being identified as a witness to the crimes and so misled Simpson that the former football star deserves a new trial.
"To me, the claims are solid. I don't know how the court can't grant relief," said Patricia Palm, the Simpson appeals lawyer who produced a 94-page petition dissecting Galanter's promises, payments and performance as Simpson's lawyer in the trial that ended with a jury finding Simpson and a co-defendant guilty of 12 felonies.
Galanter declined to comment ahead of his is scheduled testimony.
Of the 22 allegations of conflict-of-interest and ineffective counsel that Palm raised, Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell has agreed to hear 19.
The five-day proceedings are technically neither a trial nor appeal. There won't be any opening statements. The judge will listen to testimony before deciding whether Simpson deserves a new trial. It's not clear whether Bell will rule immediately.
Simpson now says that Galanter knew ahead of time about his plan to retrieve what he thought were personal mementoes and met with Simpson in Las Vegas to discuss the plan the night before Simpson and five other men confronted two sports memorabilia dealers and a middleman in a cramped casino hotel room in September 2007.
Simpson maintains the plan was to take back what he expected would be family photos and personal belongings stolen from him after his 1995 "trial of the century" acquittal in the slayings of his wife and her friend in Los Angeles.
Galanter blessed the plan as within the law, as long as no one trespassed and no force was used, Simpson said.
The first witness on Monday is scheduled to be Dr. Norman Roitman, a Las Vegas psychiatrist who is expected to say that Simpson's perception of what took place in the Palace Station hotel room might have been hampered by football brain injuries and the effects of several vodka and cranberry juice cocktails he consumed before the confrontation.
H. Leon Simon and Leah Beverly, the Clark County deputy district attorneys representing the state, are scheduled to call another psychiatrist later in the week for another opinion.
Simpson trial co-counsel Gabriel Grasso is also scheduled Monday to testify.
Grasso and Galanter split in months after the trial, and Grasso later sued Galanter in federal court alleging breach of contract and nonpayment of legal fees. Grasso alleges that Galanter promised him $250,000 but paid just $15,000. Galanter responded with a defamation and slander lawsuit, filed in Miami.
In a sworn statement outlining what he will say, Grasso said he doesn't know if Galanter advised Simpson about recovering property before the incident, and doesn't know if Galanter told Simpson about a prosecution offer of a plea deal.
But Grasso said he thought Simpson should testify before the jury.
During trial, Simpson contends, Galanter "vigorously discouraged" him not to testify, and never told him that prosecutors were willing to let him plead guilty to charges that would have gotten him a minimum of two years in prison.
"He consistently told me the state could not prove its case because I acted within my rights in retaking my own property," Simpson said in a sworn statement outlining what he plans to say when he testifies this week.
Some who've watched the Simpson saga say he might have a chance.
"I think there's a lot to this," said John Momot, a lawyer nearing 40 years of criminal defense in Las Vegas who played himself in the 1995 movie "Casino" and provided expert cable TV commentary during Simpson's monthlong trial in September 2008.
"I don't think O.J. Simpson could ever get a fair trial, period, based on his reputation from California," Momot said. "But based on these allegations, if you took Joe Jones from the street and put him in the same situation, I think it would be possible he'd get a new trial."
Simpson's lawyers also say that while continuing to represent Simpson through oral arguments in a failed 2010 appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, Galanter kept a lid on his own behind-the-scenes involvement. That nearly extinguished any chance Simpson had to claim ineffective representation in state or federal courts.