red adidas superstar Jury Decides Simpson Must Pay
Writing one of the final chapters in O. J. Simpson’s long legal case, a civil court jury here ordered him today to pay a financially debilitating $25 million in punitive damages to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman.
The huge award constituted still another pointed contradiction of the much disputed 1995 criminal court verdict that found Mr. Simpson not guilty of the double slaying that has gripped the nation with its uncomfortable questions about murder, wife battering, racism, celebrity and the quality of American justice.
Mr. Simpson does not now have $33.5 million and likely never will. So it is but a guess how much less the plaintiffs’ families will get, once the appeals and future court hearings are completed and Mr. Simpson’s time in court, already pushing three years, comes to an end.
The surviving family members were overjoyed after hearing today’s decision, but they insisted that the awards, while more than welcome, were not the big issue in their civil action. Rather, they explained, they were looking for closure ”justice,” some called it to the worst thing that had ever happened to them.
Speaking for the Brown family, its lawyer, John Q. Kelly, said the issue was never money because that would have required putting a price tag on murder. ”And that’s something you can’t do,” Mr. Kelly said.
Before the jury could make either a compensatory or punitive award,
it first was required to determine whether Mr. Simpson was the killer.
Mr. Simpson, whose appeals will face both legal and financial hurdles, was not in court to hear today’s verdict, which was permissible because the case was a civil action. And neither he nor his lawyers made a statement afterward.
The jurors who chose to talk after leaving the courtroom the court identified them only by number generally said the plaintiffs had more than made their case. That was the precise opposite of what jurors on the criminal court panel had said in their out of court discussions of their deliberations.
”Finding O. J. Simpson liable of the murders and acting with oppression and malice was one of the easiest decisions I have ever had to make,” said Juror No. 11, a woman in her 30’s.
Juror No. 266, a woman in her 40’s later identified as Deena Mullen, said her decision was based on everything she heard in court, especially the evidence that by now has become part of the nation’s legal lore: the bloody soled shoes, the incidents of wife beating, the bloody gloves, the sweat suited figure in the dark, Mr. Simpson’s taking the stand. ”He was not credible,” she said.
Both juries heard basically the same case, with much emphasis placed on blood evidence by both sides. But there were some important differences.
The criminal case was tried by a predominantly black jury, and conviction required a finding that Mr. Simpson committed the June 12, 1994, slayings beyond any reasonable doubt. The civil case was tried before a predominantly white jury,
and a verdict required only 9 of 12 votes, with the basic legal standard being that in all probability Mr. Simpson committed the slayings.
In the criminal case, the defense made much of allegations that police investigators were racists out to get a black American sports and entertainment celebrity. In the civil case, the jury heard little about racism because the court ruled that such allegations were inflammatory and speculative.
Further, the civil jury saw some new evidence, including pictures of Mr. Simpson wearing shoes like those that left bloody prints at the slaying scene outside Mrs. Simpson’s condominium.
Finally, in the criminal case, Mr. Simpson did not take the stand, again his option. But in the civil case, Mr. Simpson was called to testify, the plaintiffs’ option, and he gave what was generally considered a mixed performance.
Because of the complicated manner in which the civil suit was filed, the $8.5 million award was granted only to the divorced parents of Mr. Goldman, Sharon Rufo and Fred Goldman. The second award will be shared by Fred Goldman and the parents of Mrs. Simpson, Louis and Juditha Brown, who filed suit on behalf of the Simpson children, Sydney, 11,
and Justin, 8, the ultimate recipients of that share of the money.
Both awards are expected to be appealed. They are subject to review and, in the case of the second award, very possibly reduction by Superior Court Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki, who presided over the four month long proceedings.
Under California law, punitive damages are supposed to factor in the reprehensibility of the crime but also should bear some resemblance to the defendant’s worth.
Thus, there is the question of whether Mr. Simpson, whose once great wealth of $10 million or so has been sharply whittled by his many legal fees, is worth anywhere close to $33.5 million.
He pleaded in court that he was more than $850,000 in debt. But the plaintiff families argued that he was worth more than $15 million, taking into consideration his possible future earnings, a permissible legal factor. They also pointed out that he still lived in a mansion, still had household servants, still drove expensive imported cars and, as a self described golf addict, still spent much of his time on the links.
Whatever size is eventually determined for the awards, both the Goldmans and the Browns made clear throughout the proceedings that although they wanted money from Mr. Simpson as punishment and in recompense for the loss of loved ones,
what they wanted even more was resolution of a case whose earlier criminal court verdict of innocence left them devastated and depressed.
Newsletter Sign Up
After last Tuesday’s $8.5 million verdict, which the jury of six men and six women agreed upon unanimously, the families expressed great satisfaction, noting that the award could not have been made had not the panel first determined that Mr. Simpson, more likely than not, was the person who fatally slashed his former wife and her friend.
After today’s verdict was announced, the families again expressed satisfaction. But that satisfaction, great as it was because of the punishing size of the award, nevertheless loses a bit of its impact because in the two votes required to reach the $25 million figure, the panel first split 11 to 1 and then 10 to 2.
The first vote was on whether to award any punitive damages at all. The second was on how much to award.
Regarding the 10 to 2 vote, one of the dissenting jurors, No. 294, Lisa Theriot, who is in her 20’s, said she thought the punitive damages should have been some millions less because she did not believe Mr. Simpson had $25 million. But she agreed with the other jurors that he should be punished severely in terms of money. ”We all felt that he has the potential to make a lot of money,” she said. ”We didn’t take the defense’s argument that he was washed up.”
In order for Mr. Simpson to appeal the awards, he must first come up with a bond that equals 150 percent of them, a huge monetary challenge,
however much his future earning potential. If he can’t produce such a bond, his next best hope is that Judge Fujisaki trims the awards.