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"HE STARTED CALLING ME AT HOME," Johnnie Cochran says, explaining how Simpson began courting him a couple of days after his arrest. The accused murderer had until then been served by Robert Shapiro. "I still have the taped messages, and someday I might whip them out. His whole thing was, he wanted to get out and get this over with by Halloween so he could go trick-or-treating with his kids." Cochran says he postponed getting involved until he saw how the preliminary hearing went, but that Simpson kept calling him. "O.J. would call me at night and he'd say, 'Look, I want you in court with me.' I was put on the team by O.J. Simpson, not Bob Shapiro." Indeed, says Cochran, Shapiro tried to "lowball" him. At a meeting at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, Cochran says he asked about fees before joining the team. "Well, you know there's only so much money,'' Shapiro replied, according to Cochran. "I listened to him up to a point, and later on I discovered that what he carved out for himself was a lot bigger than for the rest of us." Shapiro doesn't deny trying to limit Cochran's fee. "That's true. But I wouldn't say lowballing. I was given a budget ... I was trying to hire people for the best possible fee." Cochran came on board in July.
Still, Cochran says he was confronted by a morass of disorganization. "I mean, like we were team players, but we knew it was going to be real tough," he says. "Ultimately, O.J. had to make a decision about who was going to run this thing." Cochran places the blame for the defense's failure to turn over key materials to the prosecution early in the discovery process squarely on Shapiro's shoulders. "O.J. saw this and he was smart. He stepped in and said, 'I want Johnnie to be in charge.'"
In August 1994, before Cochran's ascension, Simpson's lawyers discussed a plea bargain for manslaughter. The talks took place in Shapiro's Century City law offices. Cochran mainly listened, neither advocating nor dismissing the idea of a plea. However, says one source, Shapiro and F. Lee Bailey, the legendary trial lawyer brought on by Shapiro, were willing to entertain the idea, though they spent last week accusing each other of initiating the talks. People also reported last week--though Kardashian denies it--that Kardashian was prepared to accept a charge of accessory to murder if Simpson pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Although the plea bargain was never formally presented to the district attorney's office, it was mentioned, carefully and informally, to one of the lead prosecutors. That prosecutor told Shapiro the district attorney would never agree.
In the ensuing months, Shapiro would be further eclipsed by Bailey. Simpson seemed to think Bailey had the same kind of star power he believed himself to possess. Soon, says a source, "O.J. started saying, 'I want Bailey to do this, I want Bailey to do that.' " At Christmastime last year, the Bailey and Shapiro factions of the camp openly quarreled over who was leaking information to the press. Last week Shapiro said he would never again work with Cochran or speak to Bailey. Bailey responded by calling Shapiro "a sick little puppy." (For his part, Bailey was never a constant O.J. favorite; for example, the defendant was furious after Bailey got silly during testimony related to the bloody Bruno Magli shoeprints. Says one source: "They were in love, out of love, back in love.")