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Forget Johnnie and Marcia: Hot Legal Names Are Greta, Gerry and Leslie

April 16, 1995

Johnnie and Marcia aren’t the only lawyers making it big in the O.J. Simpson trial. Greta, Leslie and Gerry have become familiar faces as armchair analysts on the network news.

They are just three of hundreds of lawyers across the country who are part of an exploding cottage industry of media ``O.J. experts,″ who dissect every move made by defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr. and prosecutor Marcia Clark. In exchange, some get big bucks. And many get famous.

``I’m walking in the airport now. Everybody’s looking at me. Everybody knows me, people are pointing,″ said Gerry Spence, talking on his cellular phone on his way to a book signing in Atlanta. ``They stick their heads out of their cars and say `Hi Gerry.′ I have to be careful where I pass wind.″

Right from the start, the major networks were scrambling to get exclusive contracts with the hotshots of the legal world to help hungry viewers understand what ``voir dire″ and ``hearsay″ mean.

``Court TV, CNN and CBS all made runs at me,″ said Robert Philibosian, a retired Los Angeles district attorney who prosecuted the Hillside Strangler. His agent worked out his exclusive contract with ABC, which he says contacted him after seeing him comment in another case.

Neither lawyers nor networks would comment on how much money was changing hands. But The American Lawyer magazine quoted sources as saying Philibosian earns $3,000 a day and Leslie Abramson, who defended Erik Menendez, earns about $4,000 a day from ABC.

``I’m not going to get rich off this, but it is certainly satisfying to me,″ said Greta Van Susteren, who first started doing commentaries for CNN during the William Kennedy Smith trial.

Some lawyers who commentate daily on local television stations in Los Angeles are making no more than $500 a day, a source said, while others make nothing at all.

Court TV, which rotates about 50 guest analysts in and out, pays nothing but expenses. It approaches lawyers from trials it has covered and asks them to be commentators.

Even those jobs are worth it for legal commentators who may lose sleep, but gain recognition.

``I like that guy from Wyoming _ Gerry something, Gerry Spence. I saw him on Geraldo,″ said trial watcher Monique Monroe of Boston. ``And I like the black woman from Fordham, Ruth Jones, that’s it. And there’s another one, Gretchen, Greta? She’s very objective.″

Spence, whose trademark is a fringed buckskin jacket, says the exposure has ``immensely″ helped sales of his new book, ``How to Argue and Win Every Time.″

Spence has an exclusive contract with NBC, but the deal brokered allows him to appear on his friend Larry King’s show on CNN.

His Jackson Hole, Wyo., office has been flooded with calls from wannabe clients. But Spence says he hardly has time for his regular job.

``I moonlight trying to keep up with my office work,″ said Spence, who set up a makeshift office in a Los Angeles hotel, replete with computers, fax and secretary.

Van Susteren, who comments during CNN’s live coverage of the trial, says she feels nearly as sequestered as the jury.

``I have great empathy for the jury because I’ve been sitting in a windowless room this whole time,″ said Van Susteren, who has taken a leave of absence from teaching at Georgetown University.

``It’s surprisingly unglamorous.″

But it can be fun.

At a recent political dinner, Philibosian was confronted by an elderly woman.

``She said, `I go to sleep with you every night and I wake up with you every morning,‴ Philibosian recounted. ``Then she realized what she said and said, `What I mean is on ``Nightline″ and ``Good Morning America.‴

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Eds: Julia Prodis is the AP’s Southwest regional reporter, based in Dallas.

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