Stand by Your Man

Robert Kardashian was the best friend an alleged murderer ever had. He took care of O.J.’s dirty laundry—including the famous garment bag—and kept his mouth shut. But now, as Simpson’s civil trial begins, will Kardashian finally be forced to tell all?

Robert Kardashian’s attorney didn’t want his client to answer the question. Neither did O.J. Simpson’s attorney. And, Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer for the father of murder victim Ronald Goldman, was getting frustrated. It was already day two of the civil trial deposition of America’s most famous friend, and Petrocelli was hitting one roadblock after another.

Petrocelli pressed on, again asking Kardashian: “Have you suffered any diminution in your standing or stature in the social community as a result of your participation on the Simpson defense team?”

“Speculative,” said Simpson’s attorney, Philip Baker.

“Objection,” chimed in Kardashian’s attorney, Janet Levine. “Irrelevant—calls for speculation and invades his privacy right.”

The attorneys quarreled for a few moments while Kardashian looked on impassively. Finally, Levine reluctantly agreed to let her client answer “just this once.” By now, everyone had forgotten the question, so it was read back by the court reporter. “Have you suffered any diminution in your standing or stature in the social community as a result of your participation on the Simpson defense team?”

“Yes,” Kardashian answered. “It’s just sometimes how I’m treated by the man on the street that I don’t know.”

“Just the members of the general public making negative comments?” Petrocelli asked.

“Correct,” said Kardashian.

If anyone needs a friend like Robert Kardashian these days, it’s Robert Kardashian. A private man devoted to friends and family, he stumbled dramatically onto the public stage June 17, 1994, when he read O.J. Simpson’s suicide-esque note on live television. He didn’t even want to read that note—he says now that Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro put him up to it.

Two years later, Kardashian’s still stuck in a rough spot. And not just because some people he doesn’t even know don’t like him. His business partner dumped him because he spent too much time working for O.J. His engagement to a smart, beautiful and very rich woman named Denice Halicki crumbled. She has steadfastly refused to comment publicly on the trial or on her break with Kardashian. The exception was one statement to Vanity Fair’s Dominick Dunne, in which she implied that Simpson played Kardashian for a trump. “O.J. used Robert,” she said.

And Kardashian, who refused to cooperate for this story, still hasn’t put the Simpson case behind him. He’s expected to be a reluctant star witness in the sequel to the Trial of the Century—the civil trial dealing with the wrongful-death claims filed against Simpson by the families of murder victims Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, which is slated to begin in late September.

Throughout the criminal trial, Kardashian was a tantalizing enigma—prosecutors believed he held the key to the question, What was in Simpson’s garment bag? Yet he managed to avoid testifying by invoking attorney-client privilege. The plaintiffs’ attorneys hope to force Kardashian to reveal what he knows about Simpson’s actions in the crucial days before his arrest—and whether O.J. failed a lie-director test two days after the murders.

Kardashian’s refusal to speak about any of this has frustrated police, prosecutors and many of his friends. “I used to be really mad at him,” says one close friend who is puzzled by Kardashian’s dogged allegiance to O.J. “Now I just feel sorry for him.”

On the morning of June 13, 1994, after being awakened by a call from the LAPD and told that his wife had been murdered, O.J. Simpson called a lot of people from his Chicago hotel room. He also placed a lot of calls on the flight back. But he never called his old friend Robert Kardashian—who heard about the murders from a friend who had heard about it from her hairdresser.

That was at about ten a.m., and Kardashian dialed Simpson’s unlisted phone number. “Is Mr. Simpson home?” he asked.

“Who’s calling?” asked a voice Kardashian didn’t recognize.

“It’s Robert Kardashian. I am a friend and attorney. … I just heard Nicole was shot and killed.”

“She was killed,” the voice said.

“You mean she wasn’t shot?”

“No. She was killed.”

“Can you give me more information?”

“No. Thank you,” the voice said, and the line went dead.

Kardashian told Halicki about Nicole’s death, then made the ten-minute drive to 360 North Rockingham Avenue. From his car, he called Kris Jenner, his ex-wife, now married to Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner. Kris was a longtime friend of Nicole’s.

“Did you hear Nicole was killed?” Kardashian asked her.

She said she had heard it from Nicole’s mother Juditha Brown.

“I was supposed to have lunch with Nicole today,” Kris said in shock.

When Kardashian got to the Simpson estate, the street was already choked with cops and reporters, but O.J. hadn’t arrived. The police wouldn’t let Kardashian onto the estate, so he waited by the front gate.

“I went really to help him out or just do whatever he wanted to do,” Kardashian said in his deposition. “I was really there just to support him.”

As he had been for the past 25 years. Anything for the Juice.

Kardashian’s grandparents had fled from the Armenian slaughter just before World War I; his parents founded a successful meat-packing company and built a family home in Windsor Hills. Family friends say Kardashian was instilled with the importance of family, trust and loyalty. Says one friend, “If Bob had to choose between his Hollywood lifestyle and family values, he would take family values. A lot of people in this town wouldn’t.”

Kardashian graduated from Dorsey High, then the University of Southern California and, finally, the University of San Diego Law School. By 1970, he had a good job with a good firm and was on the brink of becoming a millionaire. He and his older brother, Tommy, were sharing a house in Beverly Hills when he first met O.J. Simpson on the tennis court of a mutual friend. Soon, Simpson became his own version of Kato Kaelin—a frequent houseguest during the many rough patches in Simpson’s first marriage. At one point, Simpson stayed with Kardashian for six months.

The friendship intensified in the late ’70s as both men became rich and married beautiful young women. In 1975, when he was 30, Kardashian met 17-year-old Kris Houton, who worked at a clothing store. They were married three years later.

Kardashian saw Nicole Brown for the first time in 1977. Simpson, who was still married, had spotted a pretty blond waitress and was eager to introduce her to Kardashian, so he brought Nicole up to Kardashian’s office. He says Nicole was shy to the point of being standoffish. “She was kind and sweet,” Kardashian says. “She wasn’t real outgoing until she got to know you.” In 1985, Simpson married Nicole; Kardashian was an usher at the wedding.

From almost the moment Simpson met Nicole, a new social dynamic took hold. Everything revolved around the two couples and, eventually, their children. The families skied, traveled and barbecued together. “It was almost always as couples,” Kardashian says. “We did not spend time together alone. I mean, I’m sure we’d go to lunch or something. But it was rare that O.J. and I would do something alone.”

O.J., by virtue of his fame and charm, dominated the group, set the tone. There were weekly poker games and practical jokes among the USC boys—Kardashian, A.C. Cowlings and Simpson. There wasn’t anything they wouldn’t do for O.J. IN 1989, Simpson had a violent fight with Nicole that sent her to the emergency room with a possible concussion. After the fight, Simpson ran to a friend’s house for refuge. Along the way, after stashing some of his and Nicole’s jewelry, he accidentally dropped his keys. So he called A.C. for help. Ever the loyal teammate—he’d blocked for Simpson in college and the pros—Cowlings retraced his buddy’s steps and found the keys in the grass and the jewelry in a trash can.

The only hint of friction for Kardashian came from Simpson’s womanizing. “While he was married, his integrity was not as I would have it,” Kardashian said in his deposition.

Still, the friendship grew. They went into business together. A clothing store at USC came and went, as did a yogurt shop in Westwood and a business that showed music videos in movie theaters. But their failing in business seemed only to strengthen their bond. As Kardashian told Larry King’s viewers after the verdicts: “We have been in business deals together, we have lost a lot of money together. And that’s when you tell what a person is like. He’s never complained. He’s never yelled at me. He’s always told me the truth.”

Despite his track record with Simpson, Kardashian was generally a successful businessman, considered bright but not genius. Associates describe him as a great partner, the “let’s-do-lunch” guy rather than the idea man. He would work hard but was known fro three-hour lunches and frequent vacations. Yet he did well enough to own property in Hawaii, buy a house in Beverly Hills and provide for his family.

He and his wife dined out three nights a week—Chansen’s, Spago and Morton’s—and travelled to Europe, Acapulco and Aspen. The births of each of their four children brought a nursery decorated by Mon Petit Chou and clothing from Pixie Town of Beverly Hills. New Year’s meant a $12,000 party. “Nothing,” Kris wrote in court documents, “was too good for our family.”

This idyllic life came to an end in 1989 when Kris had an affair. Kardashian erupted into what a therapist described as “situational” anger and demanded a divorce. (The affair fizzled, and Kris started a relationship with Jenner, whom she later married.)

During the divorce battle, Kris claimed that Kardashian verbally abused her and accused him of cutting off her credit cards, which forced her to borrow money from friends and take a low-paying clerk job to make ends meet. She also said Kardashian fired himself from his own company so he could duck spousal and child support.

Kardashian countered that he was in fact broke, having been fired from R.K. Holdings and losing his $10,000-a-month salary. In the end, they settled. He agreed to pay more than $5,000 in monthly support.

Friends say the divorce devastated him. “Here was this middle-aged guy who was into family, and all of the sudden his wife has an affair with a younger man and then with a big athlete,” says one person close to Kardashian, The divorce also cut him off from Simpson’s social circle—he saw Simpson only two or three times a year between 1990 and 1994. He had seen O.J. just twice in the six months prior to the murders.

The first time was in February at Kardashian’s surprise 50th birthday party—O.J. gave Kardashian an autographed football jersey. The second was a chance encounter in May just weeks before the slayings. Kardashian’s son was playing baseball in a Palisades park, and Simpson was playing basketball with his daughter. The two men sat on the grass and lamented their troubles with women.

At the time, Kardashian had just been getting back on his feet. His finances were in order, and the house he and Kris had shared had finally been sold. His personal life was also improving. He was engaged to Denice Halicki, a widow in her thirties. She had just inherited a fortune when her husband, movie director-stuntman H.B. “Toby” Halicki, died in an accident on the set of Gone in 60 Seconds II.

Simpson painted a far bleaker picture of his life. He told Kardashian that his on-again, off-again relationship with Nicole was off again and that he was having a hard time accepting Nicole’s new lifestyle, which included club hopping with Faye Resnick.

In his deposition Kardashian said, “Nicole was having a midlife crisis, or … changing a little bit. She felt good about herself. She looked great. And she was exercising her youth … going out with the girls and hanging out. “

The two men didn’t see each other until the day after the murders. Kardashian stood outside the Rockingham gate for fifteen minutes waiting for Simpson to arrive from LAX. When Simpson pulled up to his gate, he was with his business lawyer Leroy “Skip” Taft. In the backseat was Kardashian’s former assistant, Cathy Randa, who had left him to work for Simpson. Next to her was Simpson’s much-discussed Louis Vuitton garment bag. Simpson marched right into his house without even looking at Kardashian, who turned to help unload the car. He saw Randa carrying the garment bag and took it from her. Kardashian says, “I walked over to the police officer and I said, ‘Mr. Simpson’s bag is sitting here. You should take it. It’s his luggage.’ ” He was surprised when the cop refused to take possession of the bag.

A short time later, police took Simpson downtown for a formal interview. Kardashian put the garment bag in his Mercedes and drove to Simpson’s office, where he spent the next six hours taking calls from Simpson’s friends. Simpson showed up at about 4:30 p.m.

At six p.m., Kardashian drove Simpson back to Rockingham, which was still being searched by police. Kardashian spent the evening there, along with a growing group of family and friends who had come to lend support. When Kardashian finally drove home late that night, he says, Simpson’s garment bag was still in the trunk.

The next morning, Kardashian read the paper, made some business calls and headed back to Simpson’s house. Simpson had not asked him to return—Kardashian just did it. He decided to take his Rolls-Royce, and just before he left, he remembered the garment bag, which he transferred from his Mercedes to the Rolls.

At Rockingham, Kardashian carried the bag to Simpson’s upstairs bedroom. A short time later, Kardashian told Simpson that it was a media zoo outside and suggested that he stay at his house for a couple of days. “It will all blow over by then,” Kardashian told him.

Simpson agreed, and they went downstairs—Simpson carrying a duffel bag and Kardashian carrying the Louis Vuitton bag, which he put in the trunk of his Rolls. Kardashian could see the swarm of reproters outside the wall and suggested that Simpson escape by cutting across a neighbor’s property. Kardashian would then pick him up on the street. “The press don’t know who I am,” Kardashian said, “and this way they won’t follow me.” (The plan worked beautifully. For the rest of the week, reporters camped out at the house even though Simpson wasn’t there.)

The two men then drove to Simpson’s office and met with Taft. Together they reviewed the situation and decided that Robert Shapiro should be brought on board. Shapiro was called and arrived less than half an hour later. One of the first things he did was pull Kardashian deeper into the case. “I need your help,” Shapiro told him. “You know a lot of things that would take me a lot of time to get up to speed on. … I need to reactivate your [law] license and help me with this case.”

Which Kardashian did. From that moment on, nearling everything he and Simpson talked about was privileged attorney-client communication, off-limits to prosecutors—and plaintiffs’ attorneys in the civil trial. No matter that Kardashian’s license had lapsed in January 1991, that he never wrote a legal brief for Simpson, that he never represented him in court. A retainer agreement was never signed and the details of payment are unknown.

One thing that didn’t fall under attorney-client privilege was the drive Kardashian and Simpson took to the airport to pick up O.J.’s golf bag. Prosecutors hinted at a dark motive for Simpson wanting to get his clubs just days after the murders—the implication was that a knife was stashed in his woods and irons. Kardashian says this was an uneventful trip and that he can’t remember anything they talked about. After picking up the clubs, they returned to Kardashian’s house—the clubs were put in his garage and the garment bag remained in Simpson’s upstairs room.

Later that afternoon, according to press reports, Kardashian and Shapiro drove Simpson to the Mid-Wilshire offices of Dr. Edward Gelb for a lie-detector test. Simpson had reportedly been told he was going for medical tests and was angered to learn he was going for a polygraph. Sources say Simpson failed the test, badly, but offered to take it again. He was advised not to do so, however, partly because he was under heavy medication. Gelb has refused to confirm or deny this report, and during his deposition, Kardashian refused to testify about the incident, citing attorney-client privilege.

Over the next few days, Kardashian says, he say the garment bag on the sofa—at one point, he saw Simpson unzip it. On the day that Simpson slipped out of the house to avoid being taken into custody—and embarked on his infamous Bronco ride—police searched Kardashian’s house and placed everybody there on house arrest. Again, however, they neglected to seize Simpson’s garment bag, which was later picked up by Randa and taken back to Simpson’s house. That’s where it sat fro nine months—until it was picked up by an officer of the court and brought in. Police also failed to show any interest in Simpson’s golf bag, which sat in Kardashian’s garage until it, too was seized.

Friends say that Kardashian’s belief in Simpson’s innocence never wavered, no matter how high the evidence mounted. Kris Jenner told D.A. investigators that she had a heated conversation with her ex-husband after Simpson had called her from jail twice one day saying he was upset by rumors that Nicole had a sexual encounter with Faye Resnick. Kardashian found out about Simpson’s calls and went to Kris’s house and said, “We have to go outside and talk.” So they went into the middle of the street, and Kardashian asked her if she had known about the Nicole-Fay encounter. Kris said she had not.

She then told Kardashian to be careful with this case, that he hadn’t been close to Simpson in recent years and didn’t know “what O.J. does”—an apparent reference to his rages and alleged stalking behavior.

“It doesn’t look good,” she warned him. “Don’t get in too deep.”

She [inquired] about the wealth of blood evidence, then asked, “How do you explain O.J.’s blood at the crime scene?”

“It was old blood … he could have been there three weeks ago,” he said.

“What was he doing bleeding at Nicole’s house?” she asked.

“He probably cut himself.”

“Well, what about Nicole’s blood in … the Bronco?”

“Nicole’s been in that Bronco before.”

Kris says Kardashian made just one concession. He said, ”We’re going to have a problem when Goldman’s blood is found inside the Bronco.”

The only time Kardashian’s faith in Simpson was tested came early on, a couple of weeks after the murders. Kardashian was bothered by media speculation that O.J. had brought a weapon back from Chicago in the golf bag, which was still sitting in Kardashian’s garage. “I wanted to know if it was true,” Kardashian testified. “I wanted to know if there was anything in there, and if there was, I was going to turn it in.”

Kardashian says he asked Cowlings to come over, and the two of them conducted a thorough search, opening all the pockets, taking out the clubs, even holding the bag upside down. Kardashian says he didn’t find any bloodstains—or a knife.

Kardashian has consistently refused to discuss his role in Simpson’s defense, but other members of the defense team have shed some light on his duties. They say Kardashian was the gatekeeper between Simpson and the lawyers wrestling for control of his defense. During these battles, Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey each tried to curry favor with Kardashian, sources say. When the DNA results were coming back piecemeal, and the results were always bad for Simpson, it was Kardashian who had to break the bad news.

Kardashian also put Simpson together with author Lawrence Schiller, with whom he wrote his jail-house bestseller, I Want to Tell You. After the not-guilty verdicts, Kardashian took part in Simpson’s failed efforts to land a pay-per-view deal and, with Schiller arranged for the exclusive publication of Simpson’s victory-party photos in the Star. (According to tabloid insiders, Kardashian was involved, but he denies shopping around the photos.)

More recently, Kardashian joined forces with Schiller for an upcoming book that promises an inside look at the Dream Team in all its dysfunction: the back stabbing, bad-mouthing and grandstanding that somehow got Simpson off. Although Kardashian is one of more than two dozen sources, he is considered the big prize, sharing thoughts and insights that Simpson may not want to hear. Says one source close to the project: “O.J.’s going to be pissed.”

In a letter to the Los Angeles Times the day after the verdict was announced, Robert Kardashian tried to tell his friends—and the world—why he had done what he’d done:

“O.J. Simpson never lied to me. He has told me that he did not commit these horrific crimes and I have no reason not to believe him. It was from that perspective that I came to stand by his side during his trial. For me, the question was: What would you do for a friend? Would you give up your business, put your personal life on hold and devote a year and a half of your life to a friend? I did, without realizing what an awful journey I was about to take.”

That Kardashian would do this all for an old friend he’d hardly seen for the previous three years surprises almost nobody who knows him. “He ascribed to a certain moral position: God-fearing, loyal friend, with old family values,” says a longtime friend. “At the same time, he also always went to the right health spa and stayed at the right place in Palm Springs.”

“He’s a typical SC kid,” says a member of the Simpson defense team. “Sure he wears Hugo Boss suits. But he also really does care about his friends. He’s a man of morals.”

To others, he’s a hypocrite, picking and choosing his morality to serve his needs. Says one lawyer: “Imagine how easy it would be to get to the truth if he wasn’t hiding behind [attorney-client] privilege.”

And, although Kardashian still believes Simpson is innocent, some of his friends have seen at least a shadow of a doubt appear. “You could say that as with many members of the defense team, the blood evidence depressed [him] at the time, and some of that depression lingers on,” says a friend.

People close to both men report that Kardashian and Simpson have started to drift apart again and are almost back to their pretrial relationship. “He’s completely shook up over the fact that there was so much domestic violence in Simpson’s life,” says another of Kardashian’s friends. “I think Robert’s having a difficult time. He feels betrayed by Simpson.” Kardashian now speaks with Simpson once a week, at most, and tells friends like Larry Kind that “I do have to get on with my own life.”

On June 27, 1996, Simpson hosted a Stop the Violence fundraiser at his mansion—it was, in effect, his coming-out party with his new allies in the black community. Kardashian did not attend. He was at a birthday dinner at Benihana’s for his daughter Khloe. Among those at the party was Faye Resnick, the mother of one of Khloe’s friends. Here was Simpson’s archenemy, Resnick, dining with his most loyal friend. Another person who was there reports that nobody had the bad taste to bring up the murders.

“Everyone,” this source says, “was on their best behavior.”