Professor Laurie Levenson
Twenty years ago, my life was changed by the so-called "Trial of the Century" -- the O.J. Simpson murder case. CBS asked me to serve as their Legal Commentator for the case. I was proud to do so. I worked with an extraordinary team of journalists, including anchor Dan Rather, to cover a case that was to have an enormous impact on Los Angeles and our legal system.
As an active law professor, I worked from 4:00 a.m. (when I did the morning shows) to 11:00 p.m. (when I appeared on late-night coverage). In between, I attended the trial, provided hour-by-hour analysis, and then taught my classes from 6:00-8:00 p.m. The students were enthralled by the case, so it really was an incredible teaching tool. I also wrote a daily column for the Los Angeles Times.
The O.J. case raised many important issues, including: (1) What impact do celebrity and race have on trials? (2) How should we address issues of domestic violence? (3) Should cameras be allowed in the courtroom? (4) How should jurors for high-profile cases be selected and should they be sequestered during trial? (5) How effective of a tool is DNA for prosecutors? (6) How much trust do the people of Los Angeles, particularly minorities, have in the LAPD? (7) What is the role of defense lawyers in trying their case in the media? (8) How much difference does venue make in a case? (9) How do individual evidentiary rulings, including the admission of testimony regarding "dream" evidence, affect a trial? and, of course, (10) What should be the role of a legal commentator?
To this day, I continue to use the O.J. case as a teaching tool. While there have been other high-profile cases that I have covered (e.g., Robert Blake murder trial, Michael Jackson molestation trial, Conrad Murray manslaughter case, and more), none of them compared to O.J. My memories of the case are intense. I was there for the verdict in the criminal case and the civil case. I recall watching O.J. testify in the civil case and witnessing his demeanor change into one who was capable of an intensely violent crime. I followed O.J. as he was convicted in Las Vegas of his kidnapping charge.
Perhaps the O.J. case is called the "Trial of the Century" because it will take decades to digest its impact on the legal system and people's perceptions of it. However, for me, the most important lesson was that the most important lessons about the law are not necessarily those that our students obtain from a book. There are those that appear in daily headlines as well.