OJ judge warms to Helen Mirren

No one would claim Lance Ito, the Californian judge presiding over the OJ Simpson trial, has an easy job. For hour after hour, he has to umpire contests between some of the toughest legal brawlers in the business. But there are some perks.

When he returns to his home in Pasadena, an elegant neighbourhood of Los Angeles, he can forget the day's turmoil, watching videotapes of Prime Suspect, the no-holds-barred television series about the British police, sent to him by Helen Mirren, one of his favourite actresses.

The judge's enthusiasm for the show came to light after he watched Ms Mirren's Oscar-nominated performance in The Madness of King George, which he recently allowed to be shown to the Simpson jurors to relieve the boredom of being sequestered in an hotel for weeks. Although it was not likely the lunacy of a British 18th-century monarch would bear much relationship to the allegations of murder against Mr Simpson, Judge Ito wanted to be certain. So he viewed the film before recommending it to the panel, and firing off an approving note to the Samuel Goldwyn Company, the producers.

Most critics have concentrated on the extraordinary performance of Nigel Hawthorne,nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. But the judge's warmest praise was reserved for his screen wife.

"He sent us the most beautiful letter to us, thanking us for the picture and wanting to be sure that Helen Mirren would know how much he and his wife enjoyed it," said Sam Goldwyn. When Ms Mirren was informed, she sent him the tapes, he said.

It is not known how much the judge, who is married to a Los Angeles police captain, has learnt about British police methods from the popular series, or how these compare with those of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

But he is clear on one front. While The Madness of King George does not jeopardise the fairmindedness of his jurors, they won't be seeing his Prime Suspect tapes in the near future.

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