Ito's Fairness Doctrine
How his parents' World War II internment shaped his life in the law
Comic relief. In those years, the young prosecutor acquired two things: a reputation as an irrepressible practical joker and a wife. Lawyers who shared the long hours and tension from dealing with hundreds of murder cases remember office pranks: goldfish winding up in one attorney's water cooler, a live chicken tethered overnight on another lawyer's desk, two wild pigeons released in an attorney's office and several inches of styrofoam packaging beads covering every surface of a certain fastidious lawyer's room. Ito met his wife, Capt. Margaret York, now the department's highest-ranking female officer, during a homicide investigation when she was a detective.
In 1987, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian appointed Ito, a Democrat, as a Superior Court judge. In 1992, the county bar association named him judge of the year. Defense and prosecution lawyers alike who have been in his courtroom praise his evenhandedness, intelligence and organization.
All those traits are being severely tested during the Simpson case. Criticism of some of Ito's actions is mounting--from defense lawyers whose motions have been almost all turned aside and from some news organizations that have felt the brunt of his anger. As the trial unfolds and the press frenzy persists, Ito and his courtroom management will come under even more pressure. His conservative record on legal interpretations, while minimizing his chances for being overturned on appeal, has raised questions about whether Ito's rulings favor the prosecution. Critics also suggest his threats--to ban a few news organizations from the courtroom, to cut off television coverage, to censure cops or lawyers for shoddy homework--will become ineffective unless he follows through. So far, he hasn't. But friends say that when it comes to doing what he thinks is fair, Judge Ito will take it to the brink.