This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, April 18, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Joining us now on the phone is USC Law Professor Susan Estrich, also a lawyer. Susan, your thoughts on this new Hollywood arrest?
SUSAN ESTRICH, LAW PROFESSOR: Well, Greta, the one question I keep asking myself is the question of timing. You and I both know, we've been hearing rumors out here in Los Angeles for the better part of a year that this arrest was coming. Why today?
And I think that's the question everybody is going to be asking tonight at midnight your time, 9:00 my time when we have this press conference. Does it have anything at all to do with yesterday's decision on the LA City Council by an 11-to-three vote to fire the police chief? Or is it just one of those amazing coincidences that the police chief gets fired on Wednesday and the very next day on Thursday Robert Blake gets arrested, a high profile arrest, really the most high profile arrest we've seen since O.J. Simpson.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, you raise an interesting point. But I suspect that press conference, which, of course...
ESTRICH: They'll say it has nothing to do, the investigation, just came together today, right, Greta?
VAN SUSTEREN: What I was going to say is I don't expect that this press conference, I'm going to watch because I'm curious, but the police aren't going to tell us that. But more importantly, I doubt they're going to tip their hand. They're going to just sort of try to be very vague about what brought about the arrest.
VAN SUSTEREN: They're going to say they got enough evidence. They charged him. And he will go through the system.
ESTRICH: Right. They're going to say it all just came together today.
VAN SUSTEREN: And you don't believe. It you think it's political.
ESTRICH: No, I don't think it's political.
VAN SUSTEREN: I mean in terms of timing.
ESTRICH: I just think it's curious. I just think it's curious. I just think it raises the curiosity factor. I mean, rumors have been flagrant for so long that they had the stuff on this guy. And I heard it six months ago. I heard it nine months ago.
And then all of a sudden it went away. So, why not six months ago? Why not nine months ago? And why now?
Beyond that, I guess the questions will be how strong is the evidence? How strong is the case? The usual sets of questions you get in a murder investigation like this. What are his defenses going to be? How are they going to try to pit the bodyguard against Robert Blake? Are they going to cut deals with anybody? How hard are they going to push?
I saw the initial statement from Sandy Gibbons, the DA spokesman, saying, "We're just going to wait until Monday." I think you're going to see everybody being very, very careful here.
I want to see how big a role Bernie Parks takes tonight. Is he going to there will be at the press conference? What role he is going to take? Is this going to be his sort of last shining moment?
I mean, in Los Angeles, it has been the tradition that district attorneys live and die by big cases like this. We've got a lame duck police chief, a district attorney who at this point is totally unknown, who is going to come out in the lights, as it were, with this case. So it will be interesting to watch.
VAN SUSTEREN: Indeed it will. And I suspect we'll have a chance to watch. Susan, do you think there will be cameras? I keep asking everyone. But I know there's such a backlash in California. What's sort of the pulse in terms of cameras or no cameras for a high profile case?
ESTRICH: Well, there's a lot of backlash. But I hope there will be cameras. I think there should be. I think we should press hard to make sure there will be. I mean, after the O.J. Simpson disaster, obviously, there will be people arguing against turning this into spectacle. But I think it becomes a bigger spectacle without them. So I'll be one of those, I know you will be too, saying that with a strong judge, cameras are still better than not having cameras.
VAN SUSTEREN: The whole concept of putting trials on TV, it's almost like it's sort of the original of reality TV because people get to see exactly what happens in our courtrooms that they might not. This isn't television, in other words.
ESTRICH: Well, it's real life television. I happen to think it's a really good thing. You know, the unfortunate part of the O.J. Simpson trial was it set back this whole movement to put trials on TV by God knows how many years.
I had been working, as I know you have, in the federal courts to try to inch the federal courts forward in this effort. And the O.J. Simpson trial turned into such a circus that it pushed it back.
But I have always believed that the best way to get people to understand the criminal justice system and the legal system is that they should see it and learn from it, and that actually we do a much better job in the legal system than people give us credit for. And while I know there will be some circus atmosphere in this one, I mean, let's look at Bonny Bakley and the sex aspect to it.
And there's going to be a lot of nuts and sluts and all of that. I still think that the better part is for people to see it rather than have you and I interpret it for them. And that's really the challenge.
VAN SUSTEREN: Where's the resistance? In a high profile case like this, where would the resistance be to having sort of the doors blown off the courtroom so that the American people, if they elect to, can watch it. Where's the resistance?
ESTRICH: I'm not sure. It depends. I'm not sure whether the prosecution will resist. I'm not sure whether the defense will resist. I'm not sure whether the victim's family will resist.
I mean, I'm not sure where her family is going to come in on this one. You know, the first thing that happened — you probably remember, I don't know if all our viewers remember — when this murder first took place, Robert Blake's attorneys — one of them has since died, actually — but his other attorney really unloaded on the victim. And they started putting out all this stuff about she was a slut, she was a nut, and she collected men, and she was under house arrest remember at the time, that she married Robert Blake, and she tormented men. And there was a lot of bad stuff coming out on her.
And my guess is part of the defense at trial were be that there were any number of men who might have wanted this woman dead. And it will make the O.J. Simpson case look like a clean defense. And I'm not sure her family is going to want to see that on seven networks at once.
But, to be perfectly honest, Greta, I don't think that should be the issue. I think there is a public interest really in these cases in having it all out there and let people decide for themselves as opposed to having it screened by you and I, as it were.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, Cary Goldstein says "don't do it" to Harland Braun. But what is Harland Braun's obligation vis-a-vis the victim in this case?
VAN SUSTEREN: Which means?
ESTRICH: Which means he's going to trash the victim. I mean, that's exactly — it's funny, the irony of that. That's exactly what I was referring to.
His strategy, Harland's strategy, from the get-go in this has been to try to cast doubt on the reputation of the victim in order to suggest that there are any number of nameless, faceless — and I expect that they won't be nameless and faceless. He will try to cast doubt on his client's guilt, to raise reasonable doubt by suggesting that there are other men out there with a motive to kill, or a possible motive to kill Bonny Bakley.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, a lot of American people when they hear that, they cringe. You know...
ESTRICH: I cringe. I cringe. I came up with nuts and sluts years ago in my work on rape law to suggest that that was the common defense against an adult woman. I cringe too. But, as you know better than anybody else, Greta, a defense attorney's only obligation of loyalty is to his client.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there anything illegal, unethical, or immoral for a defense attorney to go after a victim under those circumstances?
ESTRICH: I don't know that it's illegal, immoral, or unethical. I think it might not be effective today.
VAN SUSTEREN: But in terms of consistent with — if the strategy is a good strategy — forget whether the jury will like it, appreciate it, validate it, or not — is there anything wrong with it?
ESTRICH: I don't think it's unethical. I don't think it's immoral. I mean, I may not like it, OK. As a woman, I cringe. As an individual, I cringe. If you hired me and asked me to do it, I might tell you that everybody deserves a lawyer, but they don't deserve me.
I think the big question I would raise, and a lot of people may raise this right now, is will it be effective? I think one of the questions, one of the things that's going to be very interesting to watch is how you go about selecting a jury in this case and whether you're going to try to get rid of women of a certain age for whom that kind of a strategy is the biggest turnoff going, and whether in the year 2002 you can win an acquittal by trashing the victim.
But is it immoral? I don't think so, actually. I mean, we saw it — look, when President Clinton was charged with sexual harassment and the like, you saw his attorney, Mr. Bennett, out there trashing the victim. Now, he had to stop because the president's political supporters found it unacceptable. But I'm not sure you're going to find anything in the code of ethics that says you can't trash the victim, no.
Click here to order the entire transcript of the April 18, 2002 edition of On the Record.
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