Friday, June 20, 2014

The Bronco and the Bar Stool

The "Bronco Chase" June 17, 1944, Larry Ho, LA Times, Public Domain/Fair Use Claimed
Greetings All:

For those of you old enough to remember 20 years ago, June 17th marked the "anniversary" of the infamous OJ Simpson "Bronco Chase."  About 95 million people were glued to their TVs watching the improbable, barely believable spectacle unfolding before their eyes.

OJ Simpson had been an outstanding college and pro football player.  He went on to carve out a post-gridiron career as an announcer, celebrity pitchman (Hertz commercial anyone?) and supporting actor.  He had wealth, fame, and unfortunately, a temper.

In June, 1994, on a Sunday night in LA, two people were brutally murdered.  Five days later, an arrest warrant was produced for OJ.  The initial evidence pointed right at OJ.  Arrangements were made for him to surrender.  Except he declined to comply.  Instead, he ran.  Unlike in his past, in his prime, when he could fly past blockers with speed and flair, this time was different.  He was in slow motion.  With his friend, "AC" Al Cowlings, at the wheel, OJ puttered up the freeways of LA in his white Ford Bronco, cops in tow, lights flashing.  Thus began the "Bronco Chase."  The public showed up too, with signs of support,...for OJ.  I have a link to the LA Times story on it below in my sources.    

A little known fact of the "Bronco chase" was that an LA Detective, Tom Lange, got OJ on his cell phone and talked to him.  Simpson was clearly distraught and had a pistol pointed at his head.  OJ kept talking about, "wanting to be with Nicole," his murdered ex-wife.  My friend Greg surmised the other day that Lange likely saved Simpson's life by talking to him, reasoning with him, showing him that Simpson still had something to live for., namely his kids and mom.  There was an audio tape produced of that conversation.  It's transcript is part of Lange's book and there is a link to it below.  How this was not introduced at trial, I'll never know.  This is as close to a confession as I've ever heard. 

I heard someone on Fox News call the whole OJ Trial, "the first reality show."  I'll concur.  This trial gave television "legal experts." Expressions like, "The Dream Team" (and not the '92 Olympic USA team, although they were pretty good) and "If it does not fit, you MUST acquit!"  Sigh.

For over a year, we were transfixed with this trial.  Well, perhaps "transfixed" is a bit much.  As I recall, the trial d-r-a-g-g-e-e-d on and on.  It started in January and they were playing football when the verdict was handed down- not guilty.  It was over.

Except it wasn't.  OJ was tried in a civil trial and was found liable for the deaths he was earlier acquitted of and suffered a civil judgment of like 32 million dollars.  Later, OJ found himself before a judge and an empty gallery, being sentenced for a kidnapping and theft crime.  But before he was sentenced, he was convicted for those crimes, convicted on October 3, 2008.  That was the same day, 13 years to the day, a jury in LA had said not guilty.  Karma, maybe?  Coincidence?  Well, if you happen to subscribe to the theory that there are no coincidence (none of substance, at least) then here's Exhibit A. 

But let's go back to the night of the "Bronco Chase."  Most people may not remember were they were.  After all, it wasn't 9/11.  As for myself, I do recall where I was.  My Dad's bar.  (My Dad owns a neighborhood place in my hometown.)

I remember it for it was, at the time, the most significant day of my life.  This is prior to my getting married or having kids.  I was 25 and that morning, I had been sworn into the Iowa Bar.  

Earlier that week as America was following the unfolding saga, my friend Craig and I were in Des Moines sitting for the Iowa bar exam.  This is a rite of passage for law school graduates to join the profession of law.  I cannot say it was fun.  However, it was pure euphoria to know I passed.  Back then, the bar exam was 2.5 days and ended on Wednesday at noon.  By Thursday evening, you knew if you made it.  Friday morning, you got to raise your right hand and swear an oath to the Constitution and the various cannons of professional responsibility.  Welcome to the club, counselor.  Now, go bill some hours.

I ended up driving back home to Davenport and after a wonderful dinner at home, headed up to Dad's place for the, "Jeno made it" celebration.  There we watched the "Bronco Chase."  Rumor has it I ended up standing on a bar stool, yelling at the TV, "Hey OJ, I'm a lawyer now, I can now give you legal advice, call me!"  I cannot vouch for the accuracy of such statements but it's a safe bet I said something like that.  

My friends seemed to enjoy the show.  I also recall other patrons looking on in mild amusement at my antics, other buying me beverages.  Inevitably, people started asking me to share my brand, spanking new official "legal" opinion of the case.  I was more than happy to comply.  I think I ruled on whether OJ would get bail and said no.  I also thought he'd be convicted, was wrong on that one.  My Dad is the benevolent ruler of his bar and that night, I was the court jester.  Oh what good fun we all had.

One of my Dad's bar stools, the same as they were in '94.  Photo by J. Berta
Looking back on it, I cannot say I was proud of that conduct.  After all, two people had been slashed to death.  It was a horrific, senseless crime.  Several families would never know "normal" again.  And yet, here I was, celebrating my admission to the bar in a bar, in a less than professional way.  OJ was not going to call me.  He was too busy having a conversation with Tom Lange,...and his conscience.  In retrospect, there was nothing to celebrate, no jokes to be made.  As my British friends would say, "Bad form, old boy."  

I think I can be excused for that conduct.  Let's chalk it up to blowing off steam after a bunch of school, a lot of studying/cramming and finally, twenty hours of furious writing.  I recognize I could have acted better and for that I do apologize.  I think my greatest sin that night was not standing on a bar stool and yelling at the TV.  No, it was utilizing this tragic event for my self-promotion, however trivial.  My conduct was but a tiny stone in the obscene mosaic that became the OJ trial.  It was a circus and far from America's finest judicial hour.  I hope we've learned from it and I believe we have.  For myself, I know that my days of offering legal advice elevated on a bar stool are way in the past.

I'm curious as to what you think about what we've learned from the OJ Simpson trial.  Please share your thoughts, I'd like to know.  Thanks.

Be well my friends,


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