Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Close Encounter

It had been a busy morning, the type measured not in minutes, but in superseding deadlines. I had been sitting in my office, working on a motion due to be filed that day, when my then partner Jeff poked his head through my door and asked if I could spend a few minutes interviewing a prospective associate candidate for the law firm. I was awaiting changes to the motion from my secretary and therefore had a few minutes to spare. I asked Jeff to bring her in.

I spent about ten minutes with the candidate, discussing her resume, the schools she had attended, the firms for whom she had worked, her likes and dislikes, the reasons for her job search. My secretary interrupted our conversation, indicating that I had a call from the chambers of the judge to whom the motion was to be delivered that day. I apologized to the candidate and asked my secretary to bring her back to Jeff. I then picked up the phone and re-diverted my attention to the motion.

At lunchtime, I had a short reprieve. While my secretary put the finishing touches on the motion, I stepped out for a few minutes for lunch with Jeff. We walked a couple of blocks to Chicken Kitchen, a local franchise that specialized in healthy meals. We stood on a short line, placed our orders, paid, and walked outside to dine at a table by the restaurant’s door.

After we sat, Jeff asked my impression of the associate candidate.

“Hard to say, “ I answered. “I didn’t spend much time with her. She didn’t strike me as an axe murderer.”

Jeff’s eyes opened wide. He seemed to be looking over my shoulder. I turned around slowly and saw the reason for his discomfort. At the table directly behind us, sitting within earshot of our conversation, sat former football superstar O.J. Simpson, he of Johnny-Cochran-“If the glove doesn’t fit you must acquit” fame.

Simpson had moved to South Florida shortly after a jury in Los Angeles acquitted him of the brutal murder of his wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman, and shortly before another jury awarded millions of dollars against him in civil damages to the Goldman family for the murder of their son. Simpson’s move to South Florida was not surprising, since Florida has long had laws favorable to judgment debtors seeking to protect their assets. What was surprising was that Simpson, whom I had repeatedly watched on television as a teen tearing through opponents’ defenses on the way to a Hall-of-Fame career, and whose criminal trial I had followed a few years earlier, now sat directly behind me while I discussed axe murderers with my partner.

If Simpson overheard any part of our conversation, he did not show it. He sat at a table with two other men eating chicken and rice and seemingly engaged in his own private chat. He never looked in our direction, nor acknowledged anything that Jeff and I had discussed.

After we finished our lunch, Jeff and I picked up our trays and deposited the trash in a receptacle by the restaurant’s door. We then headed back to the office, where my pending motion awaited.

As I walked past his table, I took a final look at Simpson. He seemed totally at ease, unconcerned by his troubled past or by the stares he was surely drawing from us and other restaurant patrons.

Years later, Simpson would be convicted in Nevada of attempting to forcefully retrieve sports memorabilia, which he claimed was his, from a broker in a hotel room on the Las Vegas strip. Prosecutors alleged that Simpson and his cohorts used guns and the threat of physical violence to force the broker to relinquish the property. The jury in that case convicted Simpson, perhaps influenced by his past and the brutal nature of his wife’s murder. Today he remains incarcerated with little prospect of release.

But on that day, Simpson sat at Chicken Kitchen, eating his meal and chatting away, without an apparent care. My last glimpse caught him leaning over his plate, plastic fork in hand, listening to one of his dining companions, and chewing his food through a crooked half smile.

1 comment:

  1. That he was convicted of kidnapping floors me, because of two things. Mind you I am not commenting on his actual innocence or guilt in any of the cases. The first, is that any kidnapping incidental to a robbery is difficult to charge as a separate crime in conjunction with robbery in many states, including Florida. Perhaps Nevada permits this.

    The second is that many jurors become skeptical of this type of kidnapping, where they don't see victims bound and gagged, forced from one location to another, secreted away, ransom demanded, etc. Technically a kidnapping is simply a false imprisonment coupled with the intent to commit some other felony, and doesn't need these additional factors, but jurors are more inclined to lean towards false imprisonment in cases where there is merely a restriction on the freedom of movement, rather than an actual taking away of a person and movement.

    So I do have to question the propriety of that actual charge. The robbery I could see and had no problem with them finding him guilty of.