O.J. Simpson’s lead trial lawyer, Yale Galanter, was more interested in getting paid $500,000 than in properly defending his client, according to testimony at a post-conviction hearing Monday in Las Vegas.
The notorious former pro football star is asking Judge Linda Bell to grant him a new trial due to Galanter’s gross misrepresentation in his 2008 robbery trial.
Simpson, now 65, is five years into a nine- to 33-year prison term. He was convicted of robbing two men of sports memorabilia on Sept. 13, 2007. Simpson argued that he was simply recovering what he thought was his own property, including family heirlooms and photographs, from a sports memorabilia dealer at Palace Station.
A graying Simpson, shackled and wearing navy blue jail scrubs, shuffled into a Las Vegas courtroom. He flashed grins to family members and a reporter, but his movement was otherwise limited by hand- and anklecuffs that secured him to his chair. He was unable to rise when the judge entered the courtroom.
To win a new trial, Simpson must show incompetence by his lawyers that would have reasonably affected the verdict.
The post-conviction hearing began with defense lawyers Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo presenting four witnesses, including Simpson’s daughter Arnelle, who testified to phone calls between Simpson and Galanter before the Palace Station confrontation.
But the strongest testimony on behalf of Simpson came from Galanter’s co-counsel, local defense lawyer Gabe Grasso. He revealed that the Miami-based lawyer would not hire an expert to review audio recordings of the robbery or an investigator to profile witnesses before trial.
However, video of the trial shows Galanter saying otherwise.
“We’ve had experts look at all of them,” Galanter told Judge Jackie Glass.
“There were no experts,” Grasso said, explaining that he personally reviewed all of the audio recordings for the trial.
Grasso said Galanter left the impression there was no money to hire experts.
“I was being told we hadn’t been paid,” Grasso recalled.
Grasso said that after the trial he learned from Simpson that Galanter was paid about $500,000.
“Do you think Yale would walk around 10 minutes with anyone owing him money,” Grasso recalled the former football great saying.
Grasso said Galanter never paid him the $250,000 he was promised. The lawyers are at odds in federal court over the nonpayment.
Grasso also questioned strategies employed by Galanter, saying Simpson should have taken the witness stand in his defense.
“Hell yes,” Grasso recalled telling Simpson when asked if he should testify. “I felt it was the only chance we had to win this case.’’
But Galanter “shut that down,” and rebuked Grasso for talking strategy with the Hall of Fame running back and actor.
Grasso said he would have told Galanter to drop the case had he realized Galanter had advised Simpson in planning to “get his stuff back” from memorabilia dealer Bruce Fromong.
Fromong took his collection to Palace Station for what he thought was a legitimate sales meeting in his room. But the “buyer” was Simpson, who with five other men robbed Fromong and Alfred Beardsley at gunpoint.
The evidence in the case was overwhelming. The confrontation was recorded, along with subsequent conversations with Simpson.
Four of Simpson’s co-defendants, Michael McClinton, Walter Alexander, Charles Cashmore and Charles Ehrlich, testified for the prosecution in exchange for reduced charges and probation. Clarence Stewart was released from prison and cut a deal with prosecutors after his conviction was overturned.
Grasso said he disagreed with Galanter’s strategy of allowing into evidence the audio recordings made of the robbery and of subsequent conversations with Simpson.
“The tapes should’ve been objected to from the beginning,” Grasso said, calling them prejudicial to Simpson.
Nor did Galanter object to statements made by prosecutors about Simpson’s civil liability for the 1995 deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. He was acquitted of criminal charges in a racially charged “trial of the century.”
Glass agreed to bar information about the civil case from the robbery trial, but prosecutors alluded to it in opening arguments and Galanter did not object.
“It was his call,” Grasso said, saying he felt Galanter didn’t want to upset Glass.
Grasso said the defense strategy was to show Simpson had no criminal intent when he entered the hotel room, and that he was unaware his cohorts had guns.
He testified he was aware Simpson had been offered a two- to five-year prison term if he would plead guilty to robbery, but Galanter had rejected the deal.
“We’re not taking any deals,” Grasso recalled Galanter stating.
Grasso said he doesn’t know if Galanter discussed the deal with Simpson, as Simpson claims in court documents.
Galanter, who is expected to testify on Friday, didn’t receive good reviews from other witnesses, either.
Las Vegas businessman James Barnett, a friend of Simpson’s, called Galanter a “slick lawyer.”
Galanter’s strategy to allow the audio-tape recordings of the Palace Station robbery smacked of “pure incompetence,” Barnett testified.
He said Simpson was submissive to the Miami-based attorney, who regularly dismissed Simpson’s questions with “that’s not important” or “don’t worry about it.”
Lawyer Brent Bryson, who represented co-defendant Stewart in the trial, agreed that Galanter’s failure to oppose the admission of the tapes was a mistake.
A psychiatrist, Dr. Norton Roitman, testified about the effect of alcohol on Simpson, such as making him unaware that his cohorts had guns.
Simpson admitted he drank about six beers the day of the robbery, but Galanter did not hire an expert to testify about how alcohol affected him.
Former prosecutors David Roger and Chris Owens are also expected to testify, as is Leroy “Skip” Taft, Simpson’s money manager.
Lawyer Ozzie Fumo, a member of Simpson’s current legal team, said Monday’s testimony shows Galanter was more interested in making money than in defending Simpson.
Prosecutor Leon Simon declined comment.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review
journal.com or 702-380-1039.