WHEN JUDGE HIROSHI FUJISAKI volunteered to adjudicate mock trials at the UCLA Law School in the ’70s, Judge Paul Boland—a superior court colleague who was then associate dean—remembers waiting outside with students to welcome him. Suddenly a motorcycle appeared in the distance, roared across the grass and screeched to a halt at the steps. “Gentlemen,” said the leather-clad rider, “I’m Judge Fujisaki. Let’s get down to business.”
With that same attention-grabbing brusqueness, Fujisaki, 60, is now presiding over the wrongful-death civil suit brought against O.J. Simpson by the families of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. It promises to be an O.J. trial with a difference. The plaintiffs need only convince 9 of 12 jurors that the preponderance of evidence against Simpson suggests he is guilty, and O.J. will have to testify. And though Judge Lance Ito seemed to bask in his own celebrity during Simpson’s nine-month murder trial, the business-like Fujisaki has already served notice that he’ll brook no courtroom antics by lawyers. “I just don’t want to go out there and do a repeat of what was done before,” he said as the trial began last month in Santa Monica.
He meant it. Blasting through a two-foot stack of paperwork in just two hours at one pretrial hearing, he banned TV cameras and ordered trial participants not to talk to the press. In the ongoing jury-selection process, he has shown no tolerance for excuses. One prospective candidate, complaining of a bad hip, said she couldn’t sit for long. “I can’t either,” snapped Fujisaki, ordering her to stay. “That’s why we take recesses.”
This abrupt—some say autocratic—style isn’t just for show. “He won’t let this get away from him,” says lawyer Julie Bisceglia, who won $3.3 million for Elke Sommer in a 1993 defamation suit against Zsa Zsa Gabor and her husband, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, before Fujisaki. In that case, Fujisaki kept control by being fair, meticulous and above all, says Bisceglia, cutting the lawyers little slack. When a fire at her law firm left her unprepared at the trial’s start, Fujisaki granted only a 24-hour extension. “This is a judge who wants to move things along,” she says.
Friends say the jurist, who started his career as a public defender, has a strong sense of the importance of equal justice, forged by his past. One of five children of Torasuke Fujisaki, a gardener born in Japan, and Umeno, a home-maker, he was sent at age 6 with his family to Manzanar, a “relocation” camp in California’s eastern desert, where the U.S. government forcibly confined 10,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945. “It was very rough,” says Fujisaki’s friend Nancy Nishi, a tutor who was also in the camp. “We were assigned to barracks and given Army cots and charcoal stoves. There were no curtains, no privacy.” Speaking at the Japanese American National Museum in L.A. last year, Fujisaki recalled the pain—and shame—of life in confinement. “Somehow, when you get put in camp with barbed wire, guard towers, you get the feeling you did something wrong,” he said. “It’s a feeling that stayed with me.”
After graduating from UCLA Law School, Fujisaki earned a reputation as a tireless defender. Harland Braun, an attorney who has known the judge 25 years, remembers prosecuting a woman accused of killing her boyfriend. She claimed self-defense, but a conviction seemed likely until Fujisaki produced the man’s ex-wife, who had a knife scar etched across her face. The woman was acquitted. “He did his homework,” says Braun. “He’s a thorough person.” Appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the municipal court in 1977, Fujisaki became a superior court judge in 1980.
Now living in L.A., Fujisaki, and his wife, Misako, 61, a mathematician at the Rand Corporation, have two grown children and both love fishing. The judge is as dedicated at play as he is in the courtroom. “He’d get three or four fish to every one we got,” says friend Wilbur Littlefield. “He has his eyes focused on that rod tip at all times.”
Last summer, Fujisaki was “counting the days until retirement, and who needs a case like this?” says superior court Judge Edward Kakita. But when tapped, he didn’t duck. “He has a sense of duty,” Kakita says. The only thing Fujisaki will try to evade, say friends, is his newfound fame. “I don’t think anybody’s going to get a Hollywood screen test or launch a book tour from his courtroom,” says Bisceglia.
MARC BALLON, ELIZABETH FERNANDEZ and JEFF SCHNAUFER in Los Angeles