Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Abramson (We the Jury) collects 25 brief, thought-provoking commentaries on the O.J. Simpson case, several of which are reprinted from publications like Newsweek and the New Republic. Michael Eric Dyson wisely advises that the "goal should not be to transcend race, but to transcend the biased meanings associated with race." Elizabeth Schneider and Deborah Rohde pointedly remind readers how domestic violence was trivialized in this case. While Lorraine Adams and Serge F. Kovaleski lay out how Simpson's "Dream Team" of defense attorneys used its vast resources to shape a winning strategy (especially through use of a jury consultant), Rohde observes that many poor black defendants face unjust convictions. Some contributors suggest reform of the jury system; others say it should be scrapped. Joseph McNamara warns against the Los Angeles "military model" of policing, while ex-prosecutor Scott Turow takes prosecutors to task for regularly putting dishonest cops on the stand. As for the final analysis: Harvey Cox sees the case as evidence of American balkanization, while Stanley Crouch finds seeds of national maturity in racial matters. This is, as the subtitle suggests, a collection that addresses the meta-issues of the case: there is no exhaustive analysis of the prosecution's failures or of the recent spate of books by the trial's participants.(June)
The continuing cornucopia of commentary on the "Trial of the Century" has produced two more books, each shedding illuminating rays of insight onto the Simpson case, albeit from different perspectives. Abramson is a professor of political science and former prosecutor who brings together a collection of essays written by a wide spectrum of contributors, including law professors, prosecutors, historians, political scientists, philosophers, journalists, a former police chief, and a theologian. The essays address the broad social significance of the trial and together form a testimonial to the state of justice and democracy at the national level and their interrelationship in a city struggling to overcome racial division. Perceived shortcomings in the criminal justice system are discussed, as are proposals for reform. The editor fairly presents both sides of controversial issues, such as the role of race, the possibility of jury nullification, the influence of domestic violence, the need for jury reform, and the significance of legal strategies and ethics. Uelmen, on the other hand, speaks with a slantthough not surprisingly since he was a member of Simpson's defense team. In this context, his book is similar to Robert Shapiro's Search for Justice (Warner, 1996), except that Uelmen, a law professor, is able to tap his academic background to provide a more scholarly discussion of the activities of both the defense attorneys and the prosecutors, why they did what they did, and how they perhaps could have done better. Uelmen draws examples from the annals of legal history that a practicing attorney, such as Shapiro, might overlook. Both books are well written, but Abramson gives a more balanced view of events.Philip Y. Blue, State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., New York
A collection of essays on this season's "trial of the century," edited by lawyer Abramson (Politics/Brandeis Univ.; We the Jury, 1994).
The topics of these articles (some original, some previously published in Newsweek, the New Republic, and elsewhere) include the influence of race on the jury and public opinion; the disappearance of domestic violence as an issue at trial; the defense lawyers and prosecutors; and cameras in the courtroom. In his essay criticizing the legal journalists who covered the trial like wallpaper, Lincoln Caplan stresses their absence of historical perspective. This collection supports his view; many of the essays add nothing to what any attentive TV viewer would already understand. A few, however, make Postmortem worth a look. The most illuminating chapter is Yale Kamisar's reprise of the long history of calls to get "tough on crime" by eviscerating the Bill of Rights and minimizing the role of the jury. Harvey Cox, who calls the Simpson trial "a nasty parody of multi-culturalism," sets the public reaction to the trial in the context of Americans' historically ambivalent attitudes toward the city. Stanley Crouch argues, almost convincingly, that good news can be found in the racial and ethnic variety of the major players on all sides of the drama, including the two teams of black and Jewish attorneys. Andrew Hacker, who has served on several juries, provides a unique and encouraging perspective on that much maligned institution. Scott Turow analyzes the judicial error in admitting evidence clearly obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment including, ironically, the bloody glove that may have sunk the prosecution. The most provocative essay is by Paul Butler, who maintains that black juries often are right to employ the doctrine of jury nullificationfinding a defendant not guilty even though the evidence points to the opposite conclusionin cases of drug and other nonviolent crimes (though not in a case like this one).
A small contribution to understanding an overblown story.