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Steve
03-30-2005, 12:41 PM
Lawyer Johnnie Cochran dies at 67
Wednesday, March 30, 2005

By Linda Deutsch, The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who became a legal superstar after helping clear O.J. Simpson during a sensational murder trial in which he uttered the famous quote "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," died yesterday. He was 67.

Mr. Cochran died of a brain tumor at his home in Los Angeles, his family said.

"Certainly, Johnnie's career will be noted as one marked by 'celebrity' cases and clientele," his family said in a statement. "But he and his family were most proud of the work he did on behalf of those in the community."

With his colorful suits and ties, his gift for courtroom oratory and a knack for coining memorable phrases, Mr. Cochran was a vivid addition to the pantheon of best-known American barristers.

The "if it doesn't fit" phrase would be quoted and parodied for years afterward. It derived from a dramatic moment during which Simpson tried on a pair of bloodstained "murder gloves" to show jurors they did not fit. Some legal experts called it the turning point in the trial.

Soon after, jurors found the Hall of Fame football star not guilty of the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

For Mr. Cochran, Simpson's acquittal was the crowning achievement in a career notable for victories, often in cases with racial themes. He was a black man known for championing the causes of black defendants. Some of them, like Simpson, were famous, but more often than not they were unknowns.

"The clients I've cared about the most are the No J's, the ones who nobody knows," said Mr. Cochran, who proudly displayed copies in his office of the multimillion-dollar checks he won for ordinary citizens who said they were abused by police.

"People in New York and Los Angeles, especially mothers in the African-American community, are more afraid of the police injuring or killing their children than they are of muggers on the corner," he once said.

By the time Simpson called, the byword in the black community for defendants facing serious charges was: "Get Johnnie."

Over the years, Mr. Cochran represented football great Jim Brown on rape and assault charges, actor Todd Bridges on attempted murder charges, rapper Tupac Shakur on a weapons charge and rapper Snoop Dogg on a murder charge.

He also represented former Black Panther Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. When Mr. Cochran helped Pratt win his freedom in 1997 he called the moment "the happiest day of my life practicing law."

But the attention he received from all of those cases didn't come remotely close to the fame the Simpson trial brought him.

Simpson paid tribute to Mr. Cochran yesterday. "I've got to say, I don't think I'd be home today without Johnnie."

Simpson credited others on his so-called Dream Team with helping, but added, "Without Johnnie running the ball, I don't think there's a lawyer in the world that could have run that ball. I was innocent, but he believed it."

After Simpson's acquittal, Mr. Cochran appeared on countless TV talk shows, was awarded his own Court TV show, and traveled the world over giving speeches

In November 1999, Mr. Cochran made a last-minute campaign appearance in the Hill District on behalf of Cyril Wecht, the Democrats candidate for county executive.

Wecht lost the election by a very narrow margin, which some observers attributed to a backlash over Mr. Cochran's appearance.

"He was a very gracious man and a very generous person. He was charming, utterly, but he didn't go out of his way to be falsely charming. He had a great sense of humor and a wide range of interests," Wecht said last night.

"His ability to think on his feet, to recognize and articulate the issues, and to develop a rapport with judges and juries was unbelievable," said Wecht, who had been a close friend of Mr. Cochran for more than a decade.

Wecht, a noted forensic pathologist, first met Cochran during the Simpson trial and proceeded to work with him on half a dozen cases, including the case of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed African immigrant who was shot 19 times by the New York police.

But in legal circles, the verdict in the Simpson case represented the pinnacle of success for a respected attorney who had toiled in the Los Angeles legal profession for three decades.

Mr. Cochran was born Oct. 2, 1937 in Shreveport, La., the great-grandson of slaves, grandson of a sharecropper and son of an insurance salesman. He came to Los Angeles with his family in 1949, and became one of two dozen black students integrated into Los Angeles High School in the 1950s.

Even as a child, he had loved to argue, and in high school he excelled in debate.

He came to idolize Thurgood Marshall, the attorney who persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to outlaw school segregation in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision and who would eventually become the Supreme Court's first black justice.

"I didn't know too much about what a lawyer did, or how he worked, but I knew that if one man could cause this great stir, then the law must be a wondrous thing," Mr. Cochran said in his book. "I read everything I could find about Thurgood Marshall and confirmed that a single dedicated man could use the law to change society."

After graduating from UCLA, Mr. Cochran earned a law degree from Loyola University. He spent two years in the Los Angeles city attorney's office before establishing his own practice, later building his firm into a personal injury giant with more than 100 lawyers and offices around the country.

Flamboyant in public, he kept his private life shrouded in secrecy, and when some of those secrets became public following a 1978 divorce, they were startling.

His first marriage, to his college sweetheart, Barbara Berry, produced two daughters, Melodie and Tiffany. During their divorce, it came to light that for 10 years Mr. Cochran had secretly maintained a "second family," which included a son.

When that relationship soured, his mistress, Patricia Sikora, sued him for palimony and the case was settled privately in 2004.

Although he frequently took police departments on in court, Mr. Cochran denied being anti-police and supported the decision of his only son, Jonathan, to join the California Highway Patrol.

He counted among his closest friends Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, the city's former police chief, and the late Mayor Tom Bradley, who had been a Los Angeles police lieutenant before going into politics.

But in the Simpson case, Mr. Cochran turned the murder trial into an indictment of the Police Department, suggesting officers planted evidence in an effort to frame the former football star because he was a black celebrity.

By the time Simpson was acquitted, Mr. Cochran and co-counsel Shapiro were at loggerheads. Shapiro, who is white, had accused Mr. Cochran of playing the race card and of dealing it "from the bottom of the deck."

Simpson, meanwhile, was held liable for the killings following a 1997 civil trial and ordered to pay the Brown and Goldman families $33.5 million in restitution. Mr. Cochran didn't represent him in that case.

After Simpson, Mr. Cochran stepped out of the criminal trial arena, concentrating instead on civil matters. For a time, he represented high-profile athletes and music stars in contract matters.

He remained a beloved figure in the black community, admired as a lawyer who was relentless in his pursuit of justice and as a philanthropist who helped fund a UCLA scholarship, a low-income housing complex and a New Jersey legal academy, among other charitable endeavors.

doc
03-30-2005, 12:45 PM
Simpson, meanwhile, was held liable for the killings following a 1997 civil trial and ordered to pay the Brown and Goldman families $33.5 million in restitution. Mr. Cochran didn't represent him in that case
Well, that says it all.

"If the body bag fits, you must zip...."