OJ Fact Check: No, a Lawyer Did Not Collapse in Court

FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson” makes something up, but gets close to the truth

(Spoiler alert: Please don’t read on if you haven’t watched Tuesday’s episode of “The People v. O.J. Simpson”)

In one of the most dramatic moments of the fifth episode of “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” prosecutor Bill Hodgman becomes extremely flustered during an argument with the defense team, collapses, and is taken from the courtroom in a stretcher.

Did it really happen? No. But something similar did. Welcome back to the O.J. Fact Check.

Today’s question:

I SPENT HUNDREDS OF HOURS WATCHING THE TRIAL AND NEVER SAW ANYONE COLLAPSE. WAS I IN THE BATHROOM?
No, you timed your bathroom breaks perfectly.

THE POINT OF THE SCENE
The scene illustrates how the defense’s maneuvering badly frustrated the prosecution. It’s no stretch to say this general concept is extremely accurate.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
In the episode, Simpson attorney Johnny Cochran is delivering his opening statement to the jury, when he begins listing the names of witnesses he hasn’t shared with prosecutors. That’s a legal nuh-uh.

Hodgman is shocked, flustered and overwhelmed. Cochran’s right-hand man, Carl Douglas, takes the blame, but Hodgman can’t believe the breach of proper legal procedure.

“I have to say, Mr. Douglas,” Judge Lance Ito volunteers. “I have known Mr. Hodgman as a colleague and as a trial lawyer, but I’ve never seen the expression on his face that I see right now. Mr. Hodgman, why don’t you take a few deep breaths.”

This is almost word for word what Ito said in the actual trial. Here were his actual words, according to Jeffrey Toobin’s “The Run of His Life,” the book on which the show is based: “I have to say, Mr. Douglas, I’ve had long experience with Mr. Hodgman. I’ve known him as a colleague, as a trial lawyer, and I’ve never seen the expressions on his face that I’ve seen today. Mr. Hodgman, why don’t you take a few deep breaths, and we’ll look at this.”

So! Points for accuracy, “People v. O.J. Simpson” — at least until Hodgman-on-the-show collapses, right in the middle of the hearing. That, again, did not happen.

In truth, Toobin’s book tells us, Hodgman made it out of the courtroom that day — but only after someone commented to Simpson attorney, Robert Shapiro, “You know, Bill doesn’t look too good.” Shapiro quipped back: “Yeah, tomorrow they’re going to take him out on a stretcher.”

Little did he know.

SO HE DID GO TO A HOSPITAL?
Yes, later that day: Jan. 25, 1995.

While Hodgman and Marcia Clark briefed their boss on what had happened in court that day, Hodgman, 41, felt a strange feeling in his chest, and was taken by ambulance to the California Medical Center.

“Doctors found an irregular pattern in his electrocardiogram and decided to keep him overnight,” Toobin writes. The problem was temporary and apparently stress-induced, but Hodgman gave up his courtroom duties to Clark and Chris Darden — just like on the show — and remained on the case as a supervisor.

“He’s realizing that he needs not to hear about the case for a while,” his wife, Janet, told People. “He’s sort of in detox.” 

THE FACTS
The TV show condensed some information and tweaked what really happened for the sake of drama.

THE VERDICT
The change didn’t significantly change reality or cast anyone in a worse light. You can still trust “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.” This is the first flat-out misstatement of fact we’ve found on the show.

ANYTHING ELSE?
Share your witness list with the prosecution, OK? It’s just basic professional courtesy.

“The People v. O.J. Simpson” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.