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July 14, 2014

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Jon Ralston envisions the sad and wacky possibilities of holding the next O.J. trial in Judge Halverson’s courtroom

Nov. 4, Las Vegas, the Regional Justice Center

Judge Elizabeth Halverson snapped awake and smiled as she surveyed the crowded courtroom and focused her gaze on O.J. Simpson.

Halverson, only recently reinstated to the bench and assigned the case, seemed to be winking at the defendant, as if to say, "I've been persecuted, too, by the media. I feel your pain."

Simpson, a gleam in his eye, seemed to be smirking at the judge as he was, as usual, flanked by his Las Vegas Dream Team - Dominic Gentile, Rick Wright, Don Campbell and, of course, Oscar Goodman. The mayor seemed to be thoroughly enjoying every day in the courtroom and the spotlight attendant with his taking on the case, which he first announced he would do on "Larry King Live." Goodman had subsequently appeared on "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren ," all the network morning shows and twice more on Larry King . He also was doing daily commentary on the case for Court TV.

Across the way, District Attorney David Roger was taking in the scene, seeing the knowing looks exchanged by Halverson and Simpson, and struck a pose that had become familiar to TV viewers across the land: He sat at the table, his head in his hands.

Roger had stuck to his guns and refused to do any interviews, spending most of his time filing motions about what he alleged were improprieties in what his briefs referred to as "a mockery of the legal system" and "an embarrassment unparalleled in the history of jurisprudence."

When Roger discovered that Halverson had taken the jury to dinner at Alex and then to see "Spamalot" at the Wynn, he had vigorously protested the next day in court. But the judge had rebuked him, saying, "They deserved a break and a good laugh. And John O'Hurley even offered to rub my feet afterward."

Roger put his head in his hands.

The district attorney similarly was unsuccessful when it was disclosed that one of the jurors was negotiating to write a book about the case, tentatively titled, "The Charge of the Juice Brigade." Because no agreement with a publisher had been signed, Halverson declared, "If there is no deal, you cannot squeal."

The national media went wild, playing the sound bite over and over. Halverson, flouting usual judicial practice, conducted daily interviews about the case with local, national and international outlets.

Roger put his head in his hands.

Judge Nancy Oesterle, appointed as spokeswoman for the court during the trial, had tried to tamp down the frenzy by appearing on "The View." But that proved a fiasco when Barbara Walters unleashed withering questions about the judge's St. Johns knits and whether she had poofed up her hair for the interview.

Even worse was right before the trial began when there was quite a scene on KVBC's "Breakfast With the Wagners," when Kim Wagner encouraged O.J. to adjust the camera angle to make it more flattering to both of them - and the irate camera operator filed assault charges against the former football star. That case is pending - in Halverson's court.

In a cavalcade of surreal moments, the most memorable, perhaps, was when a quintet of Democratic presidential hopefuls stumbled upon the media cluster outside the courthouse as they had gotten lost looking for a Culinary Union picket line. Incredibly, the media didn't even notice the White House contenders were there and kept their attention trained on Goodman, his arm around Simpson, declaring his client's innocence for the umpteenth time.

The trial has been a bonanza for the city. That special Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority ad campaign - "Enjoy Vegas and watch OJ get justice" - has drawn tens of thousands of tourists as well as protests from the likes of Al Sharpton. The hotels have capitalized on the furor with marquees flashing various messages ranging from "Better odds than OJ has" to "Better rooms than OJ is staying in."

On Friday, outside the courthouse, the day ended as most do.

"It doesn't get much better than this," Goodman, a showgirl on each arm, told the array of journalists gathered outside the courthouse. "This is giving Las Vegas a chance to shine, to show what we are all about."

Behind the mayor, Sharpton was pontificating to Van Susteren on the courthouse steps, King was preparing to go live with a one -on - one with Halverson and MSNBC's Dan Abrams was about to interview former Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro.

David Roger stood there surveying the scene, his head in his hands.

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