A Nevada judge agreed Friday to reopen the armed robbery and kidnapping case against former football star O.J. Simpson to determine if Simpson was so badly represented by his lawyers that he should be freed from prison and re-tried.
Simpson wasn't in a Las Vegas courtroom while Clark County District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell agreed to hear evidence and consider 18 of 22 questions cited in a May appeal by Simpson appeals lawyer Patricia Palm.
The judge dismissed four other grounds on which the 65-year-old Simpson seeks release from state prison, where he is serving nine to 33 years.
The development could put Simpson on the witness stand for the first time. He stood trial in 2008 after authorities said he led five men, including two with guns, in a September 2007 confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers and a middleman in a cramped room at a Las Vegas casino-hotel.
The judge also granted a waiver of attorney-client privilege on questions in dispute between Simpson and his trial lawyer, Yale Galanter.
A key question will be whether Galanter had personal financial and business interests that posed a conflict that should have precluded him from handling Simpson's case.
“Galanter was motivated by his own interests, which caused him to materially limit Simpson's legal representation,” the appeal states. “Galanter remained on the case until rehearing was denied and denied Simpson the opportunity to raise this issue.”
Galanter declined comment Friday.
Simpson trial prosecutor Chris Owens protested that Palm was rehashing issues long settled by Simpson's conviction, which was upheld by the Nevada Supreme Court.
“She's just second-guessing what they did,” Owens said. “It's hindsight.”
But Palm said Simpson wants a chance to show that Galanter was in Las Vegas and knew in advance about Simpson's plan to retrieve items from the memorabilia dealers that Simpson claimed were stolen from him after his 1995 acquittal in the Los Angeles slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Galanter, a Miami lawyer who represented Simpson in other cases before the arrest in Las Vegas, denied during trial that he had anything to do with the ill-fated Las Vegas caper.
“Judge, I tell you ... I wasn't there,” Galanter said at the time. “I had nothing to do with it.”
Palm noted that Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass made no further inquiry.
The latest appeal states that Galanter was paid more than $400,000 for Simpson's defense in the robbery-kidnapping case and another $125,000 for the June 2010 appeal before the state Supreme Court. The document says Galanter paid Gabriel Grasso, Simpson's trial lawyer from Las Vegas, just $5,000.
Palm specifically exempts Grasso from allegations of ineffective counsel. The document cites accounts from Grasso and Simpson saying Grasso “was not made aware of the pre-incident advice, was not privy to private strategy discussions between Galanter and Simpson during trial, and was rebuked when he attempted to give advice without Galanter's approval.”
Simpson claims Galanter advised him that the plan to confront the two memorabilia dealers was legally permissible as long as no one trespassed on private property and no physical force was used.
Simpson wanted to testify at trial, but “Galanter advised Simpson that he should not testify because the state could not prove its case,” Palm's appeal says, “and Galanter prevented Grasso from fully advising Simpson to the contrary.”
Simpson also claims he was never advised that the Clark County district attorney offered a pretrial deal that could have gotten Simpson two to five years in prison for pleading guilty to robbery. Palm says Simpson would have taken the offer.
Grasso and Malcolm LaVergne, a Las Vegas lawyer who handled Simpson's state Supreme Court appeal, also declined comment.
Grasso is suing Galanter in federal court in Nevada, alleging breach of contract. A lawsuit by Galanter is pending in Miami alleging he was defamed by Grasso, LaVergne and Grasso's lawyer in the breach of contract case.