LINDA DEUTSCH and KEN RITTER
LAS VEGAS —
The lead defense attorney in O.J. Simpson’s armed robbery trial had a conflict of interest because he could have been a witness in the case, a lawyer who worked on Simpson’s unsuccessful appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court testified Thursday.
Witness Malcolm LaVergne said that defense attorney Yale Galanter’s conflict was that he had given Simpson legal advice regarding his plan to confront sports memorabilia dealers at a Las Vegas hotel in 2007 and take back what he believed was his property.
“Mr. Galanter may not have agreed with it, but he enabled him to do it,” LaVergne said during a hearing on Simpson’s bid for a new trial.
Simpson testified earlier that Galanter told him he was within his rights to take back his property as long as there was no violence and he didn’t trespass. “I followed what I thought was the law,” the 65-year-old former NFL star and actor said Wednesday in his first testimony about the Las Vegas incident.
LaVergne said that had Galanter’s involvement been known he would have had to declare a conflict of interest and step out of the case. In addition, he said, Galanter’s exorbitant fees meant he was putting his own financial interest ahead of the interest of his client.
“From what I know now, absolutely. There’s no doubt about it,” LaVergne said under questioning by Simpson lawyer Patricia Palm.
LaVergne took over as Simpson’s local counsel for an appeal in 2010, after another Las Vegas lawyer bowed out in a dispute over fees with Galanter, a Miami-based attorney who is scheduled to testify Friday.
LaVergne said he found Galanter wasn’t open to any suggestions in the case.
“Yale was going to have it his way,” LaVergne testified in the fourth day of hearing before District Judge Linda Marie Bell, who will determine whether Simpson was improperly represented in 2008 and deserves a new trial.
Simpson is serving a sentence of nine to 33 years in prison.
The focus since Monday has been on Galanter’s promises, payments and performance while representing Simpson at trial and staying with the case through oral arguments in a 2010 appeal that was rejected by the Nevada Supreme Court.
“Mr. Simpson was very cordial to Mr. Galanter, and Mr. Galanter ran the show,” LaVergne said, recalling his first meeting with the two.
LaVergne said Simpson went along with what Galanter wanted. But he said he later found out that Simpson was unaware of any of the legal issues being raised in his appeal and had not seen copies of the briefs submitted on his behalf.
LaVergne said Simpson wanted him and Galanter to split oral arguments before the state high court, but Galanter rejected that.