|Born||Johnnie L Cochran, Jr.
October 2, 1937
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||March 29, 2005
Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||B.S., UCLA, JD, Loyola Law School|
Johnnie L Cochran, Jr. (October 2, 1937 – March 29, 2005) was an American lawyer best known for his leadership role in the defense and criminal acquittal of O. J. Simpson for the murder of his former wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Cochran also represented Sean Combs (during his trial on gun and bribery charges), Michael Jackson, rapper Tupac Shakur, actor Todd Bridges, football player Jim Brown, rapper Snoop Dogg, former heavyweight Champion Riddick Bowe, 1992 Los Angeles riot beating victim Reginald Oliver Denny, and Geronimo Pratt. He also represented athlete Marion Jones when she faced charges of doping during her high school track career. Cochran was known for his skill in the courtroom and his prominence as an early advocate for victims of police brutality.
Johnnie L Cochran, Jr. ("L" was his full middle name) was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. His father, Johnnie Cochran, Sr., was an insurance salesman, and his mother sold Avon products. The family relocated to the West Coast and settled in Los Angeles in 1949. Cochran later graduated first in his class from Los Angeles High School in 1955. He went on to receive his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1959 and his Juris Doctor at Loyola Marymount University School of Law (now Loyola Law School) in 1962. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
Inspired by Thurgood Marshall and the legal victory he won in Brown v. Board of Education, Cochran decided to dedicate his life to practicing law. Cochran felt his career was a calling, a double opportunity to work for what he considered to be right and to challenge what he considered wrong; he could make a difference by practicing law. In A Lawyer's Life, Cochran wrote:
- "I read everything that I could find about Thurgood Marshall and confirmed that a single dedicated man could use the law to change society."
Despite setbacks as a lawyer, Cochran vowed not to cease what he was doing, saying "I made this commitment and I must fulfill it."
Cochran took a job in Los Angeles as a Deputy City Attorney in the criminal division after he passed the California bar in 1963. Two years later, he entered private practice and soon opened his own firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans, in rural Woodstock, Illinois. In his first notable case, Cochran represented a widow who sued several police officers who had shot and killed her husband. Though Cochran lost the case for his client, Mrs. Leonard Deadwyler, it became a turning point in his career. Rather than seeing the case as a defeat, Cochran realized that the trial itself had awakened the black community. In reference to the loss, Cochran wrote, "Those were extremely difficult cases to win in those days. But what Deadwyler confirmed for me was that this issue of police abuse really galvanized the minority community. It taught me that these cases could really get attention," in The American Lawyer. By the late 1970s, Cochran had established his reputation in the black community. He was litigating a number of high-profile police brutality and criminal cases.
Los Angeles County District Attorney's office
In 1978 Cochran returned to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office as its first black Assistant District Attorney. Though he took a pay cut to do so, joining the government was his way of becoming "one of the good guys, one of the very top rung." He began to strengthen his ties with the political community, alter his image and work from within to change the system.
Return to private practice
Five years later, Cochran returned to private practice, reinventing himself as "the best in the West" by opening the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. law firm. In contrast to his early loss in the Deadwyler case, Cochran won $760,000 for the family of Ron Settles, a black college football player who, his family claimed, was murdered by the police. In 1990 he joined a succeeding firm, Cochran, Mitchell & Jenna.
The Cochran Firm has grown to have twenty-six offices located in fifteen states: Miami FL, Dothan AL, Tuskegee AL, Atlanta GA, Huntsville AL, Birmingham AL, Mobile AL, New Orleans LA (2), Metairie LA, Houston TX, Dallas TX, Memphis TN, St. Louis MO, Chicago IL, West Farmington Hills MI, Washington D.C., Philadelphia PA, New York NY, Las Vegas NV, Los Angeles CA, San Jose CA, Oakland CA, Sacramento CA, Shreveport LA, and Jackson MS.
In most of his cases Cochran represented plaintiffs in tort actions, and he was an opponent of tort reform. Because of his success as a lawyer, Cochran could encourage settlement simply by his presence on a case. According to Jesse Jackson, a call to Johnnie Cochran made "corporations and violators shake."
Johnnie Cochran's well-honed rhetoric and flamboyance in the courtroom has been described as theatrical. His practice as a lawyer earned him great wealth. He was said to have earned $40 million ($1 million a year) in trying cases. With his earnings, he bought and drove cars such as a Jaguar and a Rolls-Royce. Cochran owned homes in Los Angeles, two apartments in West Hollywood, and a condo in Manhattan. In 2001, Cochran's accountant estimated that within five years the attorney would be worth $25–50 million.
Even before the Simpson case, Cochran had achieved a reputation as a "go-to" lawyer for the rich as well as a successful advocate in police brutality and civil rights cases. However, the controversial and dramatic Simpson trial made Cochran widely known, with opinions of him ranging widely.
Cochran often liked to say that he worked "not only for the OJs, but also the No Js". In other words, he enjoyed defending or suing in the name of those who did not have fame or wealth. The most glorious moment as a lawyer, in Cochran's opinion, was when he won the freedom of Geronimo Pratt. Cochran said he considered the release "the happiest day" of his legal practice.
When Cochran died in 2005, family and friends proclaimed they "were most proud of the work he did on behalf of those in the community" rather than those with wealth and might. In the words of Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, Cochran "was willing to fight for the underdog." Reverend Jesse Jackson believed Cochran was the "people's lawyer." Magic Johnson proclaimed Cochran was known "...for representing O.J. [Simpson] and Michael [Jackson], but he was bigger and better than that." He was even described as the Thurgood Marshall of his era.
During closing arguments in the Simpson trial, Cochran uttered the now famous phrase, "[I]f it doesn't fit, you must acquit." He used the phrase as a way to try to persuade the jury that O.J. Simpson could not have murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, because the murderer's gloves did not fit him. Cochran did not represent Simpson in a civil trial for the same murders in which Simpson was found liable.
Johnnie Cochran was criticized by pundits for bringing up the issue of race, as well as by Prosecutor Christopher Darden. Cochran told the mainly black Simpson jury that police officers were trying to frame O.J. Simpson because of his race. Robert Shapiro, co-counsel on the Simpson defense team, accused Cochran of dealing the "race card" "from the bottom of the deck." In response, Cochran replied it was "not a case about race, it is a case about reasonable doubt...", noting "there are a lot of white people who are willing to accept this verdict." Cochran's representation generated hostility toward the attorney. At Cochran's funeral, O.J. Simpson expressed his belief that, without Cochran, he would not have been acquitted.
On September 8, 2012, Cochran was accused by Darden of tampering with the glove that was at the center of the O.J. Simpson trial.
Cochran successfully represented Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was sodomized with a plunger while in police custody. Louima was awarded an $8.75 million settlement, the largest police brutality settlement in New York City. Tension broke out between Louima's original lawyers, and the new team headed by Cochran. The former team felt that Cochran and his colleagues were trying to take control of the entire trial.
In 2001, Sean ("P. Diddy") Combs was indicted on stolen weapons charges as well as bribery. Soon thereafter, Combs hired Cochran. Cochran effectively fought for Combs' freedom, with Combs winning an acquittal.
In 2002, Cochran promised Combs this would be Cochran's last criminal case. After that trial, he retired from criminal cases due to their exhausting nature. After the trial, Cochran declined to represent R. Kelly and Allen Iverson in criminal cases when they asked for his services.
In April 2004, Cochran underwent surgery, which led to his staying away from the media. Shortly thereafter, he told the New York Post he was feeling well, and that he was in good health. He died at his home in Los Angeles on Tuesday, March 29, 2005 from a brain tumor.
Public viewing of his casket was conducted on April 4 and April 5 and a memorial service was held at Little Union Baptist Church on April 8, 2005 in Shreveport. His remains were interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. The funeral was attended by numerous former clients and friends. Among them were O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Stevie Wonder, Magic Johnson, actress Angela Bassett, Gloria Allred, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, Abner Louima, and others.
On May 31, 2005, about two months after Cochran's death, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its opinion on Tory v. Cochran. The court ruled 7–2 that in light of Cochran's death, an injunction limiting the demonstrations of Ulysses Tory "amounts to an overly broad prior restraint upon speech". Two justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, said that Cochran's death made it unnecessary for the court to rule. Lower courts, before Cochran died, held that Tory could not make any public comments about Johnnie Cochran in any way.
In honor of Cochran, on January 24, 2006, Los Angeles Unified School District officials unanimously approved the renaming of Mount Vernon Middle School, Cochran's boyhood middle school, to Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Middle School, saying he was an "extraordinary, superb lawyer with movie-star celebrity status." There have been mixed reactions about the board of education's decision, primarily because of Cochran's work as a lawyer. For instance, the sister of Nicole Brown Simpson has expressed her disappointment with the decision, although she called Cochran "a great defense attorney." Since the school was renamed, others have voiced their ideas of naming a street after Cochran. City Councilman Herb J. Wesson Jr. wanted the city to rename a section of 17th Street, which runs in the front entrance of the school that the city approved to Johnnie Cochran Vista. Wesson also felt that Cochran was "a great attorney and a great role model who contributed to this community."
In 2007, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles opened the new Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Brain Tumor Center, a research center headed by noted neurosurgeon Keith Black, who had been Cochran's doctor.
After the Simpson trial, Cochran himself was a frequent commentator on law-related television shows. In addition to being featured on television shows, he hosted his own show, Johnnie Cochran Tonight, on CourtTV. With the Simpson fame also came movie deals.
As a result of Cochran's record in high-profile trials, popular culture has enshrined him as representative of a successful lawyer, or parodied him based upon his mannerisms. Jackie Chiles, a parody lawyer of Cochran, appears in several episodes of Seinfeld. He is mentioned or referenced in innumerable lines of script in many other television shows and movies, including the films Lethal Weapon 4, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Jackie Brown, Woo, and many others, as well as in television shows such as MadTV, Martin, Angel, Whoopi, and appeared as a prominent character in the episode "Chef Aid" of South Park, using the Chewbacca defense in his closing argument. On Broadway, Cochran's character appears in the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon during the song "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream". Cochran also appeared in an episode of the video-game themed animated series Code Monkeys, as part of a "dream team" of lawyers defending main character Dave, John Hinckley and George Michael for the attempted murder of Ronald Reagan; parodying his playing the race card in the OJ Simpson trial, Cochran pleads temporary insanity on the basis that a lifetime of being white caused his clients to go crazy.
He is also mentioned in several songs, including "Thug Angels" by Wyclef Jean, "Gettin' It" by Too Short, "Ain't No Cure For Love" by Bon Jovi, "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous" by Good Charlotte, "On Sight" by Kanye West, and many others.
Cochran and his signature phrase ("if it doesn't fit, you must acquit") has been parodied many times as well: on Batman: The Animated Series ("If a man's filled with glee, that man must go free" and "If the Bat's on a spree, Wayne must pay the fee"), Justice League ("If the ring wasn't lit, you must acquit."), That's So Raven ("If the dress does not fit, you must acquit," and "If the dress is the wrong size, you must apologize."), WMAC Masters, and The Nanny ("The skirt is snug. And if the skirt doesn't fit, you must acquit.").
Cochran himself took these parodies in stride, discussing them in his autobiography, A Lawyer's Life. Furthermore, he appeared as himself in The Hughleys, Family Matters, The Howard Stern Show, Arli$$, CHiPs '99, Bamboozled, Showtime and JAG.
He is mentioned in the second episode of season 3 of Suits TV Series by the lead character Harvey Specter as he compares himself to Cochran when defending a client who is guilty by her own confession.
- The middle initial, L, does not stand for anything. Showy, Tenacious Lawyer Rode Simpson Murder Trial to Fame by Adam Bernstein, The Washington Post, March 30, 2005, retrieved April 17, 2006.
- Famed attorney Johnnie Cochran dead by DeClamecy, Dree, Wilson, Stan, Philips, Eric, CNN.com, March 30, 2005, retrieved April 20, 2005.
- Famous clients mourn Johnnie Cochran at funeral in L.A. by Linda Deutsch, The Union Tribune, April 6, 2005, retrieved April 18, 2005.
- Celebrity Lawyer Johnnie Cochran Dies at 67 by Mike O'Sullivan, Voice of America, March 30, 2005, retrieved April 18, 2005
- Patrick, Dick (October 5, 2007). "Until now, Jones had been steadfast in doping denials". USA Today.
- Carla Hall, "Flashy, Deft Lawyer Known Worldwide", Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2008.
- LLS | Alumni Profiles | Johnnie L Cochran, Jr. '62
- BIBR talks to Johnnie Cochran - Interview by Robert Flemming, Black Issues Book Review, Nov-Dec 2002, retrieved April 23, 2006.
- Johnnie Cochran by Jared Grimmer, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2000, retrieved April 20, 2006.
- Johnnie Cochran, the Attorney On the People's Defense Team by Kevin Merida, The Washington Post, March 31, 2005, retrieved April 22, 2006.
- Johnnie Cochran - Trial Attorney by Topblacks.com, retrieved April 22, 2006.
-  by Tiffaney Hicks, retrieved October 05, 2008.
- Johnnie Cochran tort reform interview by Sky News Network, retrieved May 4, 2006.
- Obituary: Johnnie Cochran by Rupert Cornwell, The (London) Independent, March 31, 2005, retrieved April 17, 2005.
- Remembering Johnnie Cochran by Greater Boston, WGBH, broadcast April 1, 2005.
- Through The Cracks by Jeffrey Meitrodt and Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune, March 27, 2001, retrieved April 29, 2006.
- "In Contempt," by Christopher Darden, published 1996
- Johnnie Cochran speaks his mind by Steve Hammer, NUVO, October 19, 1995, retrieved May 4, 2006.
- "Ex-prosecutor: O.J. Simpson lawyer tampered with glove". USA Today. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- The Louima Millions by Peter Noel, The Village Voice, July 18–24, 2001, retrieved April 18, 2005.
- `Puffy' Combs Indicted On Stolen Weapons Charge; Atty. Johnnie Cochran Joins His Legal Team by Jet, January 31, 2000, retrieved April 23, 2006.
- superstar Johnnie Cochran dead at 67 by The Associated Press, March 30, 2005, retrieved April 18, 2005.
- Cochran ruling only narrow free-speech victory by Tony Mauro, First Amendment Center, June 1, 2005, retrieved April 29, 2006.
- Middle school renamed after Johnnie Cochran by Reuters, Jan. 26, 2006, retrieved April 29, 2006.
- Cynthia H. Cho, A School, and Maybe a Street, for Cochran, Los Angeles Times, Feb. 21, 2006, retrieved April 29, 2006.
- Sandy Banks, "Celebrities gather to dedicate brain tumor center", Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2007.
- Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Brain Tumor Center at Cedars-Sinai official website.
- Johnnie Cochran to be MLK speaker by Robert J. Sales, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, January 10, 2001, retrieved May 11, 2006.