The strange Vegas O.J. case


Weird. That's the bottom line for me on the O.J. Simpson frenzy, Las Vegas style.

The charges are serious enough --- kidnapping and armed robbery. But the facts are weird. The suspects and victims are weird and, of course, the whole enterprise -- the buying and selling of O.J. memorabilia -- is certifiably weird.

What kind of a sick puppy desires O.J. memorabilia anyway? The same people who glorify Nazi collectibles or traffic in human remains?

There's money in this kind of stuff?

Is that how O.J. lives the high life these days?

Shouldn't that money be going to the families of the two people O.J. killed?

As the current case progresses, perhaps those questions will be answered for me.

In the meanwhile, if this case gets to trial, one lucky judge will draw the assignment of a lifetime. He or she will step into the spotlight and represent Las Vegas justice to the world. This is the kind of case that, done well, can propel a judge to the state Supreme Court or the U.S. Senate. Or, done poorly, can embarrass a community and end a career.

And that, my friends, provokes a few sobering thoughts.

Let's start with the orgasmic display put on by the local justices of the peace who fought like star-struck teenagers to get on TV and, ultimately, preside over the O.J. bail hearing.

The winner in the O.J. sweepstakes turned out to be Joe Bonaventure. JP Joe, despite bearing a remarkable resemblance to the comic-book store guy on "The Simpsons," did OK in the nationally televised bail hearing. More importantly, though, the court's tracking system calls for cases heard by Bonaventure to be randomly assigned to one of only two District Court judges.

Assuming there's not a similar behind-the-scenes wrestling match in District Court for the O.J. case, it will go to either Lee Gates or Jackie Glass.

They're not the best trial judges in District Court but they're not the worst.

The worst, of course, would have been Judge Elizabeth Halverson. But she's been suspended, so she's not eligible to fall asleep on the bench on a nationally televised case. Darn it. Too bad some smart cable station producer hasn't hired her as an expert commentator. I imagine she'd be a fitting character for the O.J. media circus -- "Thanks for that report into how Las Vegas judges fix tickets and generally, as you say, are mean, backstabbing bastards, Elizabeth. Now, back to you Geraldo."

The consensus best trial judge we have to offer right now is Stew Bell, a former top defense attorney and former district attorney. We also have a handful of young-Turk rookie judges, who, while unproven, could probably conduct the trial well. Or at least they think they can.

But all in all, the nation would probably receive a favorable view of Las Vegas justice with either Gates or Glass presiding.

Gates is a longtime, solid judge. Somewhere along the line (and I'm not sure how) he got crosswise with the law enforcement establishment. It has cost him chances at bids for the state Supreme Court. He's already getting tagged as the "liberal" judge. Don't believe it. He's big on personal responsibility and has a short fuse with defendants who blame their environment, or their friends or anyone else for their actions.

And, by the way, he's African-American, which would be a plus in an O.J. case that will most likely contain racial overtones.

Glass, meanwhile, is touted as the "tough" judge. But she's relatively new and largely untested.

She's smart enough to know that her inexperience could make her look silly. So she'll be careful and deliberative. Also, she's a former TV news woman, which means she could stumble a bit and still come off OK.

A good O.J. performance and who knows --- maybe Jackie lands a second chance at TV as the next Greta Van Susteren.

Las Vegas is, after all, the city of second chances. Of course, the irony is that for The Juice, as weird as this whole deal is, it's a second chance at a very long prison term.

Photo explained

Last week I published a photo from the massive Review-Journal photo archive (which contains more than 2 million photos of vintage Las Vegas) of former Gov. and Sen. Dick Bryan surrounded by swimsuit-clad women, explaining that the details and identities of the women in the picture were lost to antiquity.

Dick was kind enough to call this week and provide information.

The photo (above, right) was taken on May 3, 1966, at the Elks Lodge. Dick, who at the time was a young attorney, was the chairman of the Helldorado Beauty Contest, which that year was held on May 8, 1966. Four of the 16 contestants were in this picture and they are, left to right, Susan Kiddy, Kitty Farreau, Sheila Carrol and Rosie O'Grady. The photographer was longtime Review-Journal shooter Herp Herpolsheimer.

All of this will go back into making our files more complete. Thanks to Dick and to professor Joe, the keeper of the R-J photo archives.

Sherman Frederick is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media. Readers may write him at sfrederick@reviewjournal.com.