LAS VEGAS — O.J. Simpson’s former lawyer defended himself point-by-point Friday against allegations he botched the former football star’s armed-robbery trial, after giving damaging testimony that Simpson actually knew his buddies had guns when they went to a hotel room together to reclaim some sports memorabilia.
Miami-based attorney Yale Galanter quickly found himself under withering cross-examination from a Simpson lawyer intent on proving that Galanter’s word couldn’t be trusted — that he knew ahead of time of Simpson’s plan and spent more effort covering up his involvement than representing Simpson.
The weeklong hearing concluded late Friday with Clark County District Judge Linda Marie Bell telling attorneys she will issue her decision in writing. She didn’t specify a date.
Simpson was returned to prison custody. His attorneys, Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo, said they were optimistic that the judge would grant a new trial.
Galanter took the stand as the state’s star witness in a hearing on Simpson’s claim that he was so badly represented at trial and on appeal that his conviction should be thrown out.
He spent most of the day on the defensive, with Simpson lawyer Tom Pitaro grilling him with accusations and pointed questions.
“Mr. Simpson never told me he was going to go to the Palace (Station) hotel with a bunch of thugs, kidnap people and take property by force,” Galanter said at one point. “To insinuate I, as his lawyer, would have blessed it is insane.”
Galanter conceded at one point that Simpson’s conviction was his responsibility.
At another point, he conceded that he “misspoke” when he told the trial judge, Jackie Glass, that crucial audio recordings had been carefully analyzed by experts.
“Clearly I misspoke,” Galanter said as Pitaro bored in. “I would never, ever ... I would just never intentionally mislead a judicial officer or a lawyer. I’m falling on that sword.”
Galanter denied giving Simpson the go-ahead to retrieve the photos and footballs he believed had been stolen from him. He denied keeping Simpson in the dark about offers of plea deals that carried only a few years in prison.
He said his client agreed all along with the decision not to put him on the stand to testify at his trial.
And he disputed Simpson’s testimony from earlier this week when the former NFL star said he didn’t know anyone in the hotel room had guns.
“When you look at the entire trial, I don’t think I could have fought harder, done more,” Galanter said. “I put every ounce of blood, sweat and soul into it.”
At another point, he said: “Simpson brought a lot of baggage into the courtroom. It’s not like the 12 jurors didn’t know he was accused of murder and acquitted.”
Simpson, 65, was found guilty in 2008 of kidnapping and armed robbery over the hotel room episode and was sentenced to nine to 33 years in prison. The conviction came 13 years to the day after his “trial of the century” acquittal in Los Angeles in the murders of his ex-wife and a friend of hers.
Galanter testified that Simpson confided to him that he had asked two men to bring guns to the hotel room in September 2007, and “he knew he screwed up.”
On the stand, Galanter brought up the guns only after he paused and was reminded that Simpson had waived attorney-client privilege. “I’m very uncomfortable doing this,” he said.
Testifying about events leading up to the incident, Galanter said he was surprised when Simpson told him over dinner in Las Vegas that he and several other men were planning a “sting” the next morning to take back the mementos.
Galanter said he advised Simpson not to take matters into his own hands: “I said, ‘O.J., you’ve got to call the police.’”
Simpson testified that Galanter advised him that he was within his rights to retrieve the items, told him not to testify at the trial, and failed to tell him prosecutors had offered plea bargains.
During questioning about how much Galanter was paid for the case, the judge asked Pitaro where he was going with his questions.
“What Mr. Galanter has done is, this man has received over a half-million dollars and has put his interest, his financial interest, above the interest of his client,” Pitaro said.
Galanter insisted he told Simpson at least three times that prosecutors discussed plea bargains. He said Simpson rejected them.
Simpson said, “No deal. No way,” to an offer from the district attorney of five to seven years in prison, Galanter said.
Later, during the trial, Simpson turned down a better offer, Galanter said.
“I went out in the hall and said to O.J., ‘There is an offer of two to five.’ He said, ‘See if they will take a year,’” Galanter testified. “I discussed a year with them, and they said no and the trial went on.”
If Simpson succeeds in getting his conviction thrown out, prosecutors will have to decide whether to retry him or offer a plea bargain. If he loses, he will be sent back to prison and will probably appeal. He will be 70 before he is eligible for parole.