The latest blowup in the O.J. Simpson murder trial was also the biggest. It brought the possibility of a mistrial one step closer. It could, legal experts say, influence the jury's decision more than any evidence presented so far.
At issue was Judge Lance Ito's marriage to a Los Angeles police captain, who was disparaged - with blacks, other women, and Jews - by detective Mark Fuhrman on tape. The defense says the tapes prove Fuhrman lied under oath about using racial epithets.
Fuhrman is a key prosecution witness who claimed he found a bloody glove behind Simpson's mansion. The defense has contended all along that Fuhrman is a racist who planted the glove to implicate Simpson.
The tapes raised a legitimate question: Would hearing Fuhrman's insulting remarks about Capt. Margaret York, Judge Ito's wife, prevent Ito from being fair and impartial?
In the end, both the prosecution and defense agreed that it would not. The decision came, however, only after an onslaught of attacks and counterattacks from each side.
For those of us still following the Simpson case, it was one more bizarre twist in a trial that has had more than its share of them. As onlookers, however, we can shut off the television or turn the page of the newspaper and move on. Those more intimately involved don't have that luxury. The strain of this trial has taken its toll on everyone.
Judge Ito must make a Herculean effort to stay above the fray and help the others stay above it too. He must keep what remains of this trial from veering wildly off track. In an emotional press conference, Fred Goldman, father of one of the victims, said, "This is not now the Fuhrman trial."
He's right. This trial is about whether O. J. Simpson murdered Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. If it sometimes seems the defense and prosecution have forgotten this, it is up to Judge Ito to remind them.