Simpson Expected To Shuffle Legal Team, Demote Lead Attorney

NEW YORK - O.J. Simpson is expected to demote his lead attorney Robert Shapiro to a second-string role as soon as today, the New York Daily News has learned.

At a jailhouse meeting set for today, Simpson's three top attorneys are supposed to divvy up courtroom roles for Simpson's upcoming double murder trial, sources said.

Shapiro - who has been running the show since soon after Simpson's June 17 arrest - will take a back seat to co-counsel Johnnie Cochran.

And legal legend F. Lee Bailey, who has served as a behind-the-scenes strategist, is expected to assume an expanded role.

Simpson has been charged with the June 12 murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman. Simpson has pleaded innocent.

The revised lineup, sources said, is the work of Simpson, who wants veteran trial lawyer Cochran to handle most of the courtroom duties.

Using football lingo, the former football star recently told Shapiro that he could still be the quarterback, but that Cochran would be the halfback and that Bailey would be the fullback - "and there's gonna be no passing," one source said.

The source said the financially squeezed Simpson recently had considered firing Shapiro, who has irked some defense-team members with his penchant for headline grabbing. But other sources said Simpson still values Shapiro as a strategist.

Cochran will deliver the opening and closing statements and will handle much of the cross-examination. Bailey is expected to cross-examine some witnesses and may participate in a forthcoming DNA hearing.

Shapiro, who has limited trial experience and has never tried a murder case, will likely take care of direct examination of some witnesses. But he'll probably spend most of the trial sitting behind the defense table.

Shapiro indicated he grudgingly would accept the reduced role, sources said.

Shapiro has clashed with Cochran and Bailey over their differing drafts of opening statements, sources said.

While Cochran and Bailey want to paint a "big picture" of Simpson as a victim of injustice, Shapiro had planned to bombard jurors with minute details of alleged police bungling.

There also has been some friction, one source said, over Shapiro's recent sending of gag gifts to reporters and his spending the holidays in Hawaii, with a crucial DNA hearing days away.

Shapiro, who sent bottles of DNA cologne as Christmas gifts, was vacationing in Maui with his family under an alias. He was not immediately available for comment.

When contacted last week, Cochran didn't want to discuss the cologne stunt.

Still, a source said Cochran was incredulous when he heard the news and said, "He's really lost it now."

Meanwhile, sources said the defense team is going to ask Judge Lance Ito to either scrap or shorten the DNA evidence hearing, scheduled to begin Thursday.

The hearing could last several weeks and cost Simpson $500,000. Ito last month nixed a defense bid to argue the validity of DNA evidence - allegedly linking Simpson to the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend - before the jury.