SAN FRANCISCO – O.J. Simpson's bid to avoid paying $33.5 million for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend was rejected Wednesday by the California Supreme Court, perhaps ending one of the nation's most sensational murder cases.
The state's highest court declined to review a civil jury's finding that the former football star was liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
Simpson still could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but legal experts said it was unlikely the nation's highest court would accept such an appeal. Simpson could not immediately be contacted Wednesday for comment.
Simpson has paid only a small portion of the judgment to the victims' families, and their attorneys said that, despite Wednesday's decision, it is unlikely the families will be able to collect much more from Simpson.
Charged in criminal court with murdering his ex-wife and Goldman in 1994, Simpson was acquitted by a Los Angeles jury. He then was sued in civil court for wrongful death by the victims' survivors, and was found liable for the killings and ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.
Simpson, who has said he can't afford to pay the damages, asked the California Supreme Court to reverse the judgment, writing that the civil case was "built on top of a failed prosecution, a prosecution which was suspect for corruption, fraud, contamination, coercion and collusion."
None of the high court's justices voted to review Simpson's appeal.
To be held criminally liable in California, a jury had to find Simpson guilty of murder "beyond a reasonable doubt," which it did not. In the civil trial, a different jury had to agree to a lesser standard, that Simpson was liable for the deaths by a "preponderance of the evidence." To award damages, that same civil jury had to find liability by "clear and convincing evidence."
Attorneys for the victims' families urged the justices in court papers not to consider Simpson's appeal, saying the civil jury found clear and convincing evidence that "Simpson murdered Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
Edward Horowitz, the Los Angeles lawyer representing Louis Brown, Nicole's father, said Wednesday that Simpson has paid "a couple hundred thousand" from the judgment though the sale of furnishings and his Heisman Trophy but doesn't think the families will collect much more.
"The significance of this decision is that the only jury that ever heard Simpson testify found by clear and convincing evidence that he did it, and the court decided not to take the case," Horowitz said.
Simpson has avoided paying the bulk of the award and lives well today in Florida on a hefty pension plan he set up when he was making millions. Such pensions are exempt from civil court judgments, although any money Simpson earns could be seized immediately by the court. Florida law prevents the victims' families from seizing Simpson's house.
"We'll keep watching and checking to keep an eye on him," said Peter Gelblum, the Goldman family attorney. "If he makes any money, we'll try to seize it."
Simpson, who wrote his own appeal to the high court without the assistance of counsel, was told by his lawyers to "throw in the towel" on further appeals, according to a Simpson friend and adviser.
Dr. Henry Johnson, an internist who became interested in Simpson's case about four years ago, said he helped Simpson draft the appeal
"O.J.'s lawyers, they ran out of gas," Johnson said in a recent interview. "They told him ... he should throw in the towel and not spend any more money."
Johnson said that Simpson did not have further funds to invest in a new team of attorneys, but decided he wanted to fight on his own.
His appeal to the high court raises several points, but focused heavily on two areas: a discrepancy in missing phone records that Simpson says would exonerate him, and the absence of disgraced police Detective Mark Fuhrman as a witness in Simpson's civil trial.
He claimed he was denied the right to confront witnesses and evidence against him during the civil trial. Specifically, he cites Fuhrman being declared an unavailable witness because he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
He noted that the defense also was denied the right to introduce Fuhrman's testimony from the criminal trial because Fuhrman's cross-examination there was aborted by his Fifth Amendment claim.
"Petitioner is denied a fair and impartial trial if he is unable to present the testimony of a witness who is deemed essential to his defense of a civil action," Simpson's brief said.
Had Fuhrman testified, Simpson said, his lawyers would have challenged his claim that he found a bloody glove on Simpson's property.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal examined the Fuhrman issue and found that his exclusion from the civil trial was supported by law.
On the issue of phone records, not raised in the earlier appeal, Simpson argued that varying times were given for the hour at which Nicole Brown Simpson last spoke to her mother, Juditha Brown. Simpson claims the records would show that she was alive at 11 p.m. when he entered a limousine for a ride to the airport.
Simpson said the phone records were sealed after his preliminary hearing and later were removed from the trial files. Simpson and Johnson have gone to several courts to argue for production of the phone records, to no avail.
The case is Rufo v. Simpson, S095839.