Lance Ito Biography

Judge (1950–)
Retired L.A. Superior Court judge Lance Ito is best known for presiding over the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial.


Lance Ito was born in Los Angeles, California, on August 2, 1950, and attended law school at UC Berkeley. After a stint in private practice, Ito joined the L.A. district attorney's office in 1977. He was appointed L.A. County Superior Court judge in 1989, and six years later he presided over the O.J. Simpson murder trial. The trial, broadcast on live TV, became a national obsession and made Ito a celebrity. He remained a judge for another 20 years, before retiring in 2015.

Early Years

Lance Ito was born in Los Angeles, California, on August 2, 1950. His life and career was molded by the experience his parents went through during World War II, when they were among the more than 10,000 Japanese Americans interned at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. Ito has said that the unjust experience his parents endured, and the philosophical way they handled it, affected his sense of fairness and ability to cope with adversity, outlooks that steered him through his years as a lawyer and judge.

Schooling and Career Rise

Ito attended UCLA, where the political science major embraced the late-1960s counterculture that stood against the Vietnam War, growing his hair long and attending protests. He graduated in 1972 and enrolled at the UC Berkeley School of Law. He left Berkeley three years later, law degree in hand, and entered private practice, where he remained for only a couple of years.

Ito joined the L.A. district attorney's office in 1977 and quickly found himself immersed in tough gang-related cases, but his work ethic and skills led to promotions. In 1981, he met homicide detective Margaret York at a murder scene, and the two were married just a few months later. (York went on to become chief of the L.A. County Police.) In 1989, after steadily climbing the legal ladder, Ito was appointed to the L.A. County Superior Court.

O.J. Simpson Trial

In 1994, Ito was named judge for the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, a case that captured the attention of the entire country. With attorneys posturing on both sides, Ito's patience and cool head presided over the events as they became part of a national obsession broadcast live from the courtroom. Ito himself became part of the conversation as he steered the proceedings through a complicated media frenzy that only intensified in October 1995, when Simpson was found not guilty before 150 million viewers on live television.

Ito oversaw another 500 trials before retiring in 2015. In 2016, he was among the featured characters of the miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, in which he was portrayed by actor Kenneth Choi.  

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