LAS VEGAS — The lawyer who unsuccessfully defended O.J. Simpson against armed robbery charges testified Friday his client knew two companions had guns in a 2007 confrontation with memorabilia dealers.
Miami attorney Yale Galanter contradicted much of Simpson's earlier testimony while under questioning at a hearing in which his former client is seeking a new trial on grounds of ineffective legal representation.
Galanter testified the former football hero confided to him that he had indeed asked two men to bring guns to the hotel room confrontation and "he knew he screwed up."
Galanter hesitated and spoke only after he paused, breathed deeply and was reminded that Simpson had waived attorney-client privilege.
"I'm very uncomfortable doing this," Galanter said.
He said that based on conversations with Simpson, his then-client had asked the two others to bring guns.
"He said, 'The other guys had guns and I didn't,'" Galanter said.
On the basis of that, Galanter said he made the decision not to claim at trial that Simpson couldn't see the guns in the hotel room.
"To argue that he had tunnel vision and didn't see these guns was absurd to me," Galanter said.
Simpson and his new lawyers, Patricia Palm and Ozzie Fumo, allege that Galanter botched the trial over the hotel room incident, which involved two memorabilia dealers and five Simpson pals, including two who testified they brought guns.
Testifying about events prior to the hotel room incident, Galanter said he was surprised when Simpson 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.
Galanter said he advised against it.
"He said he and some of his boys were planning a sting in the morning," Galanter said.
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 Simpson's 19 claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and conflict of interest.
"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 at the 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 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 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.
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