Least-Known Simpson Defense Lawyer Adopts Aggressive Style
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Carl Douglas stepped into the spotlight of the O.J. Simpson murder trial by ``falling on his sword,″ and has stayed there by wielding one for the defense team.
He doesn’t have the name recognition of Simpson’s big-time lawyers, such as Johnnie Cochran Jr., Robert Shapiro, F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz. But his forceful courtroom style and occasionally contemptuous tone have earned him attention and criticism.
Douglas handled the cross-examination of former policeman Ronald Shipp, who couldn’t be questioned by Cochran because they are cousins.
After Shipp testified Wednesday that Simpson told him he had dreamed about killing his ex-wife, Douglas lit into him in a dramatically aggressive manner. He rapidly fired questions at Shipp about his drinking, his friendship with Simpson and his recollection of the conversation about the dream.
In one memorable exchange, when Shipp insisted that he didn’t tell police earlier about the dream conversation because he didn’t want to be ``the person who nailed O.J.,″ Douglas snapped back, ``You’re not, so don’t worry about it.″
W. Harold Bigham, a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law, said Douglas’ tone may have backfired on him.
``If you overreact, and it seems to be what Douglas did, what you may be doing is impressing on the minds of the juror that this damning testimony is more damning that it really is,″ Bigham said.
``(Douglas) is in a spotlight. He’s very frightened, very scared, it seems to me,″ he added. ``That’s why you see him acting so hostile and also asking questions that he ought not to be asking. It’s typical of a lawyer who is under stress.″
Professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School agreed that Douglas’ demeanor didn’t serve him well.
``Even in the most hard-fought trials you don’t see that kind of theatrics,″ she said. ``It’s just not a particularly effective courtroom technique. It makes the witness look sympathetic.″
Douglas was less confrontational when he resumed cross-examining Shipp on Thursday.
Winston Kevin McKesson, a longtime friend of Douglas who once worked with him in Cochran’s office, said Douglas’ combative style comes from working as a federal public defender, and from years of confronting police officers on the stand.
``We handled a lot of police misconduct cases,″ McKesson said. ``You don’t try those cases with kid gloves. You don’t attack the police in a nice way. ... You really have to get in somebody’s face.″
Douglas has been with Cochran’s law offices for eight years and is now the managing lawyer there. Some call him Cochran’s protege.
``By reputation, he is thorough, competent, courteous, which are also the hallmarks of Mr. Cochran,″ said Wilma Pinder, a Los Angeles deputy city attorney who has known Douglas for five years.
Douglas was first thrust into the Simpson spotlight on Jan. 25, when he accepted full responsibility for the defense team’s failure to reveal some witnesses until the day of opening statements. Douglas said he lost the witness statements amid thousands of other documents.
Prosecutor William Hodgman said he appreciated Douglas ``falling on his sword.″ Superior Court Judge Lance Ito _ who said the defense deliberately hid the witnesses _ instructed the jury to ignore six witnesses Cochran mentioned in his opening statement. Prosecutor Marcia Clark also was allowed to give an unprecedented second opening statement.
Even before the Simpson trial, Douglas had earned a reputation as an excellent orator and tenacious lawyer. Last week, he was honored as the Loren Miller Lawyer of the Year by the John M. Langston Bar Association, an association of black lawyers.
But despite his aggressive style, McKesson said, Douglas is ``a very personable person.″
``It’s funny because when you hear him in court he’s a very eloquent speaker and good orator,″ he said. ``Off court he’s an ordinary guy, a nice guy, a fun guy to be around.″