Monday, February 20, 2012

Advocate for Justice - Johnnie Cochran Jr.

I hope your have enjoyed, and are enjoying, this journey with me, as I remember the ghost of the greats and those moments significant to the African American Diaspora. I would surely be remised during Black History Month if I did not pay homage to the great advocate for justice - Johnnie Cochran Jr.

This amazingly talented attorney was born Johnnie Cochran Jr., on October 2, 1937, in Shreveport, Louisiana, as the great-grandson of an African-American slave. He grew up in a stable and prosperous family with a father and mother who stressed education, independence, and a color-blind attitude. While Cochran was still young, the family moved to Los Angeles where he attended public schools and earned excellent grades. Although his father had a good job with the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, Cochran always managed to find friends who had more money and more luxuries than he did.

"If you were a person who integrated well, as I did, you got to go to people's houses and envision another life," he recalled. "I knew kids who had things I could only dream of. I remember going to someone's house and seeing a swimming pool. I was like, `That's great!' Another guy had an archery range in his loft. An archery range! I could not believe it. I had never thought about archery! But it made me get off my butt and say, `Hey, I can do this!'

Cochran earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1959, supporting himself by selling insurance policies for his father's company. He was accepted by the Loyola Marymount University School of Law and began his studies there in the autumn of 1959. Having finished his law studies and passed the California bar by 1963, Cochran took a job with the city of Los Angeles, serving as a deputy city attorney in the criminal division working as a prosecutor.

After a few years, he entered into private practice with the late Gerald Lenoir. Then, forming his own firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans and his career was launched from this office with a highly-publicized and inflammatory cases dealing with police brutality. Later in his career he attracted celebrity clients like Michael Jackson, and defended O. J. Simpson in the famous 1995 murder trial. Cochran became a celebrity himself, making appearances and writing his memoirs.

Other than what became known for his leadership in “the Trial of the Century”, Mr. Cochran will be remembered for cases like that of a young black man named Leonard Deadwyler who was shot dead by the police as he tried to rush his pregnant wife to the hospital. Although, he lost the civil suit against the Los Angeles Police Department, he never stopped fighting for issues concerning police abuse or injustice inflicted upon the minority community.

There was another memorable case that steered Cochran toward working on behalf of his race. In the early 1970’s, he went to court in defense of Geronimo Pratt, a former Black Panther who stood accused of murder. Cochran lost that case too, but he insists to this day that Pratt was railroaded by the F.B.I. and local police.

"White America just can't come to grips with this," Cochran explained in Essence. "To them the police are as they should be: saving children, acting like heroes in the community. They aren't setting up people, they're not lying, and they aren't using their racist beliefs as an excuse to go after certain people." He fought for Pratt until he was released from prison 27 years later.

These kinds of headline-grabbing cases quickly made Cochran's famous in the black communities of Los Angeles, and by the late 1970s he was handling a number of police brutality and other criminal cases. In an abrupt about face in 1978, he joined the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. Cochran has said that he took the job because he wanted to broaden his political contacts and refashion his image.

Returning to private practice in 1983, Cochran established himself as "the best in the West" to quote Ebony magazine. One of his first major victories occurred in the case of Ron Settles, a college football player who police said had hanged himself in a jail cell after having been picked up for speeding. On the behalf of Settles' family, Cochran demanded that the athlete's body be exhumed and examined. A coroner determined that Settles had been strangled by a police choke hold. A pre-trial settlement brought the grieving family $760,000.

The Settles case settlement was the first in a series of damage awards that Cochran has won for clients—some observers estimate he has won between $40 and $43 million from various California municipalities and police districts in judgments for his clients. Essence reporter Diane Weathers wrote: "Cochran is not just another rich celebrity lawyer. His specialty is suing City Hall on behalf of many fameless people who don't sing, dance or score touchdowns and who have been framed, beaten up, shot at, humiliated and sometimes killed at the hands of the notorious LAPD."

In spite of Cochran’s hard work and local celebrity, it was not until he entered his appearance in the celebrity trial of O. J. Simpson's that he became a national star. In the summer of 1994, Simpson was arrested and charged with the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Simpson declared that he was innocent, and he engaged Cochran as part of an expensive "dream team" of lawyers dedicated to his defense. Before long, Cochran had replaced Robert Shapiro as leader of the "dream team" as the matter was brought to trial.

The O. J. Simpson trial, in his view, was a "classic rush-to-judgment case and Cochran vowed to win an acquittal for the football star-turned-television celebrity. With his engaging manner and sincerity, Cochran sought to poke holes in the case against Simpson as presented by district attorneys Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. Piece by piece, he challenged the evidence, paying special attention to the racist attitudes of one of the investigating officers, Mark Fuhrman.

Cochran was effective and controversial in his closing arguments on Simpson's behalf. He claimed his client had been framed by a racist police officer, and that if such injustice were allowed to persist, it could lead to genocide as practiced by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Speaking to the jury, Cochran concluded: "If you don't speak out, if you don't stand up, if you don't do what's right, this kind of conduct will continue on forever." After deliberating only four hours, the mostly black jury found Simpson not guilty on all counts. From that statement, the “race card” was entered into the lexicon of American speak.

He has written a book, Journey to Justice, and took part in a daily show for the Court TV channel. Cochran left Court TV in 1999 to create The Cochran Firm, one of the largest personal injury law firms in America. Cochran died of a brain tumor on March 29, 2005 at the age of 67. He was the greatest attorney, in my opinion, since Thurgood Marshall and that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective!

Black History is American History

"Just a Season"
Legacy – A New Season the sequel is coming!

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