Johnnie Cochran—More Than OJ’s Lawyer

– L. Arthalia Cravin

In his book 2002 “A Lawyer’s Life,” the late Johnnie Cochran, once the most famous lawyer in America, talks about the law and his life. What most people do not know is that Johnnie Cochran had been “on the battlefield for justice” long before he took on the defense of O. J. Simpson. Most people do not know that Johnnie Cochran won a $240 million judgment against Walt Disney for stealing the idea of two white men for what later became an Orlando Disney theme park. Most people think that Johnnie Cochran “fell of a turnip truck” just before taking on the O. J. Simpson case.

Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1937. His father, Johnnie Cochran Sr., was an insurance salesman and his mother sold Avon products. In 1949 the Cochran family moved to Los Angeles and Johnnie graduated first in his 1955 Los Angeles High School class. He received a Bachelor of Science in business administration from UCLA in 1959 and a Juris Doctor from Loyola Marymount School of Law in 1962. After law school Cochran took a job as a Deputy City Attorney in the criminal division of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, “feeling like a pawn” prosecuting young black men caught up in the criminal justice system. In 1965 Cochran went into private practice as a criminal defense lawyer. Cochran has just entered practice when police brutality involving two young black men lead to the Watts Riot. After 6 days of civil unrest, 34 people were dead, 856 injured and 4000 arrested—all of whom needed a lawyer.

Over the course of 40 years Cochran represented hundreds of peoples and causes, some high profile, and some of ordinary citizens. His clients included Michael Jackson, Sean Puffy Combs, Reginald Denny, Geronimo Pratt, Tupac Shakur, Jim Brown, Todd Bridges, Marion Jones, Abner Louima, who was sodomized with a broom handle by New York police, and, Amadou Diallo, the 23-year old African immigrant who was riddled with forty-one bullets by New York police as he stood in the foyer of his own apartment building. But Cochran’s interest in justice extended to the wider net of racial injustice. He carried the legal torch for the century-old battle for reparations for descendants of slaves. Cochran also fought corporate America’s wholesale and blatant discrimination against African American in hiring and promotion. Cochran interest in justice was also global extending to racial apartheid in Africa. Cochran was the only attorney ever honored in Los Angeles as both Civil Trial Lawyer of the Year and Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year.

But it was Cochran’s “Dream Team” representation of O. J. Simpson that made him a household word—both positively and negatively. After OJ’s acquittal, some of the white press demonized Cochran, referring to him as “Cochranizing a case”—a metaphor for the pursuit of justice or a verdict as they called it, “without regard for the truth.” Cochran used the courtroom as his battleground and as his lecture podium.

In the last chapter of his book Cochran says, “The only way to fight is to persevere— you can’t quit trying.” He says, “There is nothing more depressing than to believe in our system of justice and not be able to go into a courtroom and get that justice.” Even so, Cochran said, “There are still many days when the injustice I see makes me angry. Days when the racial injustice and politically conservative nature of he system frustrates me.”

Johnnie Cochran died on March 29, 2005 from a brain tumor. He was 67. He concluded his book, “A Lawyer’s Life,” by saying, “I loved it the first day I went to work as a lawyer. I still love it. And I know without any doubt that I will love it always. I have heard all the jokes, I laughed at many of them myself—and I am so proud to have spent my life as a lawyer. I rest my case.”

Copyright 2011 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

Share Button
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Wednesday Wisdom