Former OJ lawyer denies OK'ing hotel room plan

Associated Press
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court on Thursday, May 16, 2013 in Las Vegas. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison as a result of his October 2008 conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping charges, is using a writ of habeas corpus, to seek a new trial, claiming he had such bad representation that his conviction should be reversed. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Jeff Scheid, Pool)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — O.J. Simpson's former lawyer said Friday he was surprised when the former football hero told him over dinner at a Las Vegas hotel that he and several other men were planning a "sting" to take back items he believed had been stolen from him in Los Angeles.

Miami attorney Yale Galanter said he advised against it.

"He said he and some of his boys were planning a sting in the morning," Galanter said after coolly stepping into the witness stand to testify as the state's star witness against Simpson's bid for a new trial.

Simpson and his new lawyers, Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo, allege that Galanter botched the trial that led to Simpson's conviction in the 2007 hotel room caper involving two sports memorabilia dealers and five Simpson pals, including two who testified they brought guns.

Under questioning by H. Leon Simon, attorney for the state, Galanter said Simpson mentioned the sting plan while they were having dinner with several other people at Simpson's hotel the night before. Galanter said he was in town on another, unspecified, legal case and he met with his longtime client to catch up as friends.

Galanter denied giving Simpson the go-ahead to try to retrieve personal items — a key contention among 19 claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and conflict of interest that Simpson hopes will convince a judge to grant him a new trial.

"When he first mentioned it, it just went over my head," Galanter said of Simpson's plan. "About a minute or two later, I leaned over and said, 'What are you talking about? What are you doing?'

"He told me he finally had a lead on some personal pictures and memorabilia that was stolen from him years earlier," Galanter testified. "I said, 'O.J., you've got to call the police.'"

According to Simpson, Galanter advised the former football star that it was his legal right to retrieve personal items; told Simpson not to testify in the subsequent trial; failed to tell Simpson that prosecutors offered plea deals; and failed to raise the issue of ineffective assistance of counsel on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Palm and Fumo have said they didn't need Galanter to testify for Simpson. They said written briefs, bolstered this week by testimony from 12 witnesses, have provided compelling evidence that Simpson deserves a new trial.

Another Simpson lawyer joined the legal team Friday. Tom Pitaro, a veteran Las Vegas trial attorney known for witheringly direct and insistent questioning, will handle Galanter's cross-examination.

Since Monday, the Simpson hearing on a writ of habeas corpus has revolved around Galanter — his promises, payments and performance in the trial that sent Simpson to prison for nine to 33 years for armed robbery and kidnapping.

Galanter faces some uncomfortable questions about his trial preparation, the nearly $700,000 he was paid but allegedly didn't share with the Las Vegas lawyer at his side and why he didn't try to block prosecutors from playing for the jury secret recordings that amounted to a soundtrack of Simpson and his five pals confronting two sports collectibles brokers and a middleman in a cramped casino hotel room.

Simpson still maintains that he didn't know anyone in the hotel room had guns, and that he had a right to the items he was after — football mementos, awards, photos and personal items that he said were stolen from him while he was moving out of his Los Angeles home.

The move followed Simpson's "trial of the century" acquittal in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife and her friend, and a 1997 civil judgment that ordered him to pay $33.5 million to the estates of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

"I talked to Yale about it two or three times," Simpson said during his testimony Wednesday. "The overall advice he was giving was, 'You have a right to get your stuff.'"

Key among Simpson's 19 claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and conflict of interest being considered by District Court Judge Linda Marie Bell is the allegation that Galanter should have provided witness testimony supporting Simpson's contention that he didn't know he was breaking the law.

Bell has made no indication whether she plans an immediate ruling or will issue a written decision later.

The most damaging testimony about Galanter's performance came from three other lawyers involved in the case: Gabriel Grasso and Malcolm LaVergne, who represented Simpson, and Brent Bryson, who represented a Simpson co-defendant who also was convicted.

Each said Galanter seemed more interested in what he was paid and protecting himself from having to testify than in fully representing his client.

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Find Ken Ritter on Twitter: https://twitter.com/krttr

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