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OJ lawyer to make high court appeal for new trial

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KEN RITTER | June 10, 2010 08:43 PM EST | AP

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LAS VEGAS — O.J. Simpson's lawyer says time could be the biggest hurdle he'll face when he asks the Nevada Supreme Court on Friday to overturn the imprisoned former football star's conviction in a September 2007 hotel room heist and grant a new trial.

"We only have 15 minutes to make our arguments. It really is daunting," Yale Galanter said Thursday. "But what the public doesn't know is that there are hundreds of pages of briefs that have already been filed."

Simpson and convicted co-defendant Clarence "C.J." Stewart won't be in court when their lawyers tell a trio of justices that Simpson's fame – and his acquittal in the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman in Los Angeles – tilted the Las Vegas proceedings in favor of the prosecution.

Simpson, who turns 63 next month, has been working as a gymnasium janitor while serving nine to 33 years at a state prison in the northern Nevada town of Lovelock.

Stewart, 56, heads a music program while serving 7 1/2 to 27 years at High Desert State Prison, 45 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

"This was a referendum on O.J. Simpson's life. This was payback," Galanter said, previewing what he'll tell justices Mark Gibbons, Michael Cherry and Nancy Saitta in Las Vegas. "This was not about what happened here in Nevada."

The same three justices agreed to hear arguments last year before deciding not to free Simpson and Stewart from prison while their appeals were pending.

Clark County District Attorney David Roger said Simpson and Stewart's September 2008 trial was "somewhat contentious" but fair, and their appeals should be denied. Clark County District Judge Jackie Glass "did a wonderful job refereeing" the trial under tough circumstances, he said.

"An unbiased jury listened to a monthlong trial, reviewed hours of recordings and deliberated 13 hours before announcing their guilty verdict," Roger said Thursday.

After Friday's argument, the court panel could take three months or more to render a decision, said Bill Gang, spokesman for the state's only appellate court. The entire seven-member Nevada Supreme Court could also then agree to take the case.

Galanter is alleging judicial misconduct, insufficient evidence, a lack of racial diversity on the jury, and errors in sentencing and jury instructions.

Attorney Brent Bryson will argue Stewart's appeal. Bryson maintains Stewart should have been tried separately, and that the jury foreman hid a bias toward Simpson until after the two were sentenced.

"The district attorney's whole theme of this trial was that this jury was going to write the 'final chapter,' and they were going to expose the 'true face of O.J. Simpson,'" Bryson said, recalling prosecutors' 2008 opening statements. "That has nothing to do with my client."

Simpson and Stewart, a former golfing buddy, were convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery, conspiracy and other crimes for robbing two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint in a room at the Palace Station casino-hotel.

Simpson maintained he went to the hotel room with five other men to retrieve family photos and mementoes that belonged to him, and he had no idea that two of the men brought guns.

Four other men involved took plea deals and received probation after testifying for the prosecution.

Court cable television network TruTV plans to broadcast Friday's 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. arguments live, Gang said. The proceedings also are to be streamed on the Nevada Supreme Court website, . http://www.nevadajudiciary.us

One veteran Las Vegas lawyer who has argued before the state's high court said the questions Galanter and Bryson get could indicate what the three justices are thinking.

"What they'll try to do is challenge the attorney, to see how strong the prejudice argument is," said Dayvid Figler, a former Las Vegas Municipal Court judge.

"I think they're being super-cautious on this one," Figler said of the justices. "Their job is to uphold the verdict if at all possible. If there was error, they have to determine if it affected the verdict."