August 28, 1995 12:00 PM

JUDGE LANCE ITO’S FIRST ENCOUNTER with his future wife, Margaret York, didn’t promise much in the way of romance. “We met at 4 a.m. at a homicide scene, both looking over a dead body,” he has said. At the time, he was a Los Angeles deputy district attorney working with the hard-core-gang unit; she was a detective assigned to the case. Even in that hard setting, love blossomed, and the two law enforcement officials married in 1981.

Since that first macabre rendezvous, York, 54, the top woman in the LAPD and head of its internal investigations unit, and Ito, 45, have kept their relationship intact—and private—as their remarkable careers have diverged. Last week though, York became an unwilling player in the O.J. Simpson trial, following the explosive disclosure that she is mentioned in taped interviews with former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman. The tapes were made over a nine-year period by Laura Hart McKinny, 44, an aspiring screenwriter from North Carolina, who hoped Fuhrman could provide her with gritty cop stories. In them, Fuhrman allegedly makes disparaging comments about York, his former supervisor, repeatedly uses the word “nigger” and, the defense claims, says that police officers “learn how to lie, cheat and set people up.”

The 12 hours of recordings already posed a headache for Ito. Defense lawyers want to use them to bolster their claim that Fuhrman is a racist who planted evidence framing Simpson. The prosecution insists the tapes are mostly Fuhrman’s macho fantasies. But when York’s name came up, the sticky issue turned into a mess. Last week, prosecutor Marcia Clark would not rule out the possibility that Ito’s wife might be called to court to respond to Fuhrman’s taped statements. If York is forced to testify, Ito may have to remove himself from the trial—or even declare a mistrial. Another judge will rule on whether York will be called. Whatever the new judge decides, the mere mention of York’s name has brought out a previously unseen side of Ito’s personality. “I love my wife dearly,” he said, seeming to choke back tears. “I am wounded by criticism of her, as any spouse would be.”

Until last week, York had managed to stay out of her husband’s limelight. Born Margaret Mandley, she grew up in a tiny farm community outside Canton, Ohio. Carol Cogan, a childhood friend, recalls that “she was just a country girl like the rest of us—although maybe a little less afraid to try things.” As a teen, she moved to Los Angeles with her parents, Ralph and Hazel, and married Donald York, with whom she has three now-grown children; they later divorced.

In 1968, she joined the LAPD. A decade later, York joined the LAPD’s first female detective team—which in turn became the inspiration for the TV series Cagney & Lacey. In the ’80s, York earned a reputation as a firm but fair officer and attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. “She’s very by the book. You know where she stands and is decisive,” says Lieutenant Ann Young, president of the Los Angeles Women Police Officers Association.

York crossed paths with Fuhrman while serving as watch commander at West L.A. police station in 1985. Fuhrman, then a patrol officer, was reportedly under investigation by the department for his involvement in an informal officers’ group called Men Against Women. LAPD homicide detective Mike DePasquale, a colleague at the time, says the group “was kind of a joke. There was no organization and nothing came of it.” In fact, in a sworn statement to Simpson investigators last November, York said that she did not recall investigating Fuhrman.

Earlier this year, York was named head of the Internal Affairs Division, which looks into politically sensitive cases of police misconduct. The job, which pays $84,000 a year, is “cops investigating cops…the hottest hot potato you can get at the LAPD,” says former L.A. District Attorney Robert Philibosian.

When they aren’t at work, York and Ito, who have no children, divide their time between a 13-room home in Pasadena with a guest house and swimming pool, and a weekend house in Baja California. “They have an intense marriage…[but] they have always been somewhat aloof,” says former neighbor Bruce Baldwin. “That’s because they are serious professional people.”

Friends say that York is prepared to withstand the latest round of scrutiny. “She fought her way to the top by being better than anybody else,” says Philibosian. “She’s tough and smart.”



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