OPEN COURTS/FREE PRESS — "Fourteen years ago todayshock and awe. After 16 tawdry months of
the Simpson case wallpapering the public square, a Los Angeles criminal
court jury found O.J. Simpson not guilty of the hideous murders of his
ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman," recalls Patt Morrison in the Los Angeles Times, introducing her interview with the former court public information officer who's written a book about her experiences with the media in that episode.
The trial made a lot of people famous, but one of its insiders is
someone you've probably never heard of: Jerrianne Hayslett. As the
information officer for the Los Angeles Superior Courts, she danced a
daily minuet between the media and the courts, and every reporter,
photographer and news technician among the hundreds who buzzed around
the trial wanted her ear and her help. A onetime city editor of the
Pasadena Star-News, she took the court job in 1991 and retired in 2002.
Every night during the Simpson trial, she dictated an audio journal on
her hourlong drive home. It was a way to spare her husband from having
to hear her vent about it — and eventually it was the basis of a book,
"Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from the People vs.
O.J. Simpson." These days, she advises courts in countries such as
Slovenia, Indonesia and Serbia about dealing with the media in their
own trials. But there'll never be another Simpson trial. Will there?
What was the verdict day like for you?
Shock when [Judge Lance] Ito's clerk read the verdicts. I expected
a hung jury and wasn't prepared for acquittals. After the verdicts,
myriad questions, including one from a veteran reporter who asked when
the verdicts would be appealed! Feeling at loose ends when I learned
that the jurors, instead of participating in a news conference, were
making appearances with the media [through agents]. Finally, a feeling
of letdown as I mopped up; to be so completely focused and wound up so
tightly and to have it end so abruptly.
What prepared you for the job?
Nothing! [The courts] had never had a public information officer
before, so they wanted somebody who understood the news media. The
McMartin preschool trial, the Latasha Harlins killing — they felt like
they were just overrun. They wanted somebody to explain [the media] to
the judges and explain the courts to the media. Having gone through the
Rodney King beating, the Menendez brothers, Heidi Fleiss, Reginald
Denny beating, when the Simpson case came, I thought, "Well, I'm ready,
I know what I'm doing," and it was like being smacked by a tsunami.
Who had more misconceptions about the other, the courts or the news media?
Oh dear. I really think the courts had more of a misconception simply because they had less exposure to the media.
Vincent Bugliosi, the former L.A. assistant district attorney who
prosecuted Charles Manson, told me that if televised trials are
educational, then show a traffic case, some humdrum process, not a
sensational murder trial.
I understand where he's coming from. Simpson truly was an anomaly, and
that's what gets broadcast and seen as the norm, when it's not. I
believe cameras should be in every courtroom. [People] should have
access to their courts. We no longer live in a society where everyone
can hang out in the galleries of the courthouse during a trial. And I
think that television or a webcast has become a town square. I truly
believe if that happened, then the spectacle stuff would recede to some
Part of your book's title is "Public Loss." What did the public lose?
Their ability to access the courts through cameras. There have been
restrictions placed on public access to proceedings — gag orders,
sealed documents, closed hearings and so forth. I think by having less
access, they have less understanding of how our public institutions
work. This really disturbs me too: The public felt a loss of confidence
in not just the courts but in the news media.