Johnnie Cochran

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Johnnie Cochran
Johnnie cochran 2001 cropped retouched.jpg
Cochran in May 2001
BornJohnnie L. Cochran Jr.
(1937-10-02)October 2, 1937
Shreveport, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedMarch 29, 2005(2005-03-29) (aged 67)
Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of California, Los Angeles (BA)
Loyola Marymount University (JD)
  • Barbara Berry Cochran (m. 1960–1977)
  • Sylvia Dale (m. 1985–2005)

Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.[1] (/ˈkɒkrən/; 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 wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.[2]

Cochran represented Sean Combs during his trial on gun and bribery charges, as well as Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Todd Bridges,[3] football player Jim Brown, Snoop Dogg, former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe,[4] 1992 Los Angeles riot beating victim Reginald Oliver Denny,[2] and inmate and activist Geronimo Pratt. He represented athlete Marion Jones when she faced charges of doping during her high school track career.[5] Cochran was known for his skill in the courtroom and his prominence as an early advocate for victims of police brutality.[1]

Early life[edit]

Cochran was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. His father was an insurance salesman, and his mother sold Avon products. The family relocated to the West Coast during the second wave of the Great Migration, settling in Los Angeles in 1949.[6] Cochran went to local schools and graduated first in his class from Los Angeles High School in 1955. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business economics from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1959 and a Juris Doctor from the Loyola Law School in 1962. He was a member and 45th "Laurel Wreath Wearer" of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.[7][8]

Legal practice[edit]

Inspired by Thurgood Marshall and the legal victory Thurgood 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."[9]

Early career[edit]

After passing the bar in 1963, Cochran took a job in Los Angeles as a deputy city attorney in the criminal division.[10] In 1964, the young Cochran received one of his first celebrity cases, Lenny Bruce, a comedian who had recently been arrested on obscenity charges.[11] Two years later, Cochran entered private practice. Soon thereafter, he opened his own firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans, in Los Angeles.[2]

In his first notable case, Cochran represented an African-American widow who sued several police officers who had shot and killed her husband, Leonard Deadwyler. Though Cochran lost the case, it became a turning point in his career. Rather than seeing the case as a defeat, Cochran realized the trial itself had awakened the black community. In reference to the loss, Cochran wrote in The American Lawyer, "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."

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.[1]

Los Angeles County District Attorney's office[edit]

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.[12]

Return to private practice[edit]

Cochran's office, maintained in memoriam at The Cochran Firm, 4949 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California

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 US$760,000 for the family of Ron Settles, a black college football player who, his family claimed, was murdered by the police. In 1990, Cochran joined a succeeding firm, Cochran, Mitchell & Jenna,[13] and joined Cochran, Cherry, Givens & Smith in 1997.[14] The Cochran Firm has grown to have regional offices located in fifteen states.

In most of his cases Cochran represented plaintiffs in tort actions, and he opposed tort reform.[15] Due to his success as a lawyer, Cochran could encourage settlement simply by his presence on a case.[16] According to Rev. Jesse Jackson, a call to Johnnie Cochran made "corporations and violators shake."[12]

Cochran's well-honed rhetoric[4] and flamboyance[17] in the courtroom has been described as theatrical. His practice as a lawyer earned him great wealth. With his earnings, he bought and drove cars such as a Jaguar and a Rolls-Royce. He 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 US$25–50 million.[18]


Before the Simpson case, Cochran had achieved a reputation as a "go-to" lawyer for the rich, as well as a successful advocate for minorities in police brutality and civil rights cases. However, the controversial and dramatic Simpson trial made Cochran more widely known, generating a variety of opinions about him.[1][16]

Cochran had 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. Cochran's most glorious moment as a lawyer, he believed, was when he won the freedom of Geronimo Pratt. Cochran said he considered Pratt's release "the happiest day" of his legal practice.[1] In the words of the Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, Cochran "was willing to fight for the underdog."[12] Rev. Jesse Jackson believed Cochran was the "people's lawyer."[17] Magic Johnson proclaimed Cochran was known "...for representing O. J. and Michael, but he was bigger and better than that".[3]

O. J. Simpson[edit]

During closing arguments in the Simpson trial, Cochran uttered the now famous phrase, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." He used the phrase, which had been devised by fellow defense team member Gerald Uelmen,[19] as a way to try to persuade the jury that Simpson could not have murdered Nicole Brown Simpson nor Ron Goldman. In a dramatic scene, Simpson appeared to have difficulty getting the glove on; stained with blood of both victims and Simpson, it had been found at the crime scene.

Cochran did not represent Simpson in the subsequent civil trial for the same murders, and Simpson was found liable for the deaths. Cochran was criticized during the criminal trial by pundits, as well as by prosecutor Christopher Darden, for suggesting that the police were trying to frame Simpson because they were racist.[20] Cochran told the majority-black jury that police officers were trying to frame Simpson because of his race.[4]

Robert Shapiro, co-counsel on the Simpson defense team, accused Cochran of dealing the "race card" "from the bottom of the deck."[10] 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."[21]

Abner Louima[edit]

Cochran successfully represented Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant in New York City who was sodomized with a broken broomstick 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.[22]

Sean Combs[edit]

In 2001, Sean (P. Diddy) Combs was indicted on bribery and stolen weapons charges. He hired Cochran for his defense. Cochran effectively fought for Combs' freedom, and Combs was acquitted.[23]

In 2002, Cochran told Combs that this would be his last criminal case. After that trial, Cochran retired. He later declined to represent R. Kelly and Allen Iverson in criminal cases, who had asked for his services.[9]

Illness and death[edit]

In December 2003, Cochran was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In April 2004, he 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.[6][24]

On March 29, 2005, he died at his home in Los Angeles, from the brain tumor.[6][24] Public viewing of his casket was conducted on April 4, at the Angelus Funeral Home and April 5, at Second Baptist Church, in Los Angeles. A memorial service was held at West Angeles Church of God in Christ, in Los Angeles, on April 6, 2005.[citation needed] His remains were interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. The funeral was attended by numerous former clients and friends, including O.J. Simpson.[3]

Posthumous ruling[edit]

On May 31, 2005, 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 Cochran in any way.[25]


Johnnie L Cochran Jr. Middle School (formerly Mt. Vernon Jr. High) in Los Angeles

In popular culture[edit]

Before Cochran's nationwide fame in the O.J. Simpson trial, actor Denzel Washington interviewed Cochran as part of his research for the movie Philadelphia (1993).[33]

After the Simpson trial, Cochran was a frequent commentator on law-related television shows. Additionally, he hosted his own show, Johnnie Cochran Tonight, on CourtTV. With the Simpson fame also came movie deals.[34]

Actor Phil Morris played attorney Jackie Chiles, a character parody of Cochran, in several episodes of Seinfeld.[35][36]

Cochran was satirized in the animated sitcom South Park, in which he appears using a confusing legal strategy called "the Chewbacca defense",[37] a direct parody of his closing argument when defending O.J. Simpson.

Cochran took these parodies in stride, discussing them in his autobiography, A Lawyer's Life.[38] Additionally, he appeared as himself in The Hughleys, Family Matters, The Howard Stern Show, Arli$$, CHiPs '99, Bamboozled, Showtime, Martin, and JAG.

Ving Rhames played Cochran in the miniseries American Tragedy (2000).

Cochran is mentioned in the 2011 musical comedy The Book of Mormon, where he is depicted as being in hell for "getting O. J. free".[39]

Cochran is also mentioned in Good Charlotte's song "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" in their 2002 album The Young and the Hopeless, indicating that one could get away with crimes as long as they have the cash to pay Cochran, a mockery to the O.J. Simpson case.

Courtney B. Vance won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for playing Cochran in The People v. O. J. Simpson (2016), the first season of the FX true crime anthology television series, American Crime Story.


  1. ^ a b c d e Adam Bernstein,"Showy, Tenacious Lawyer Rode Simpson Murder Trial to Fame", The Washington Post, March 30, 2005; retrieved April 17, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c Famed attorney Johnnie Cochran dead,, March 30, 2005; retrieved April 20, 2005.
  3. ^ a b c Linda Deutsch, Famous clients mourn Johnnie Cochran at funeral in L.A.,, April 6, 2005; retrieved April 18, 2005.
  4. ^ a b c Mike O'Sullivan, Celebrity Lawyer Johnnie Cochran Dies at 67,, March 30, 2005; retrieved April 18, 2005.
  5. ^ Patrick, Dick (October 5, 2007). "Until now, Jones had been steadfast in doping denials". USA Today. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Carla Hall (March 30, 2005). "Flashy, Deft Lawyer Known Worldwide". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Carla Hall (April 7, 2005). "An A-List Turnout Does Cochran Justice". Los Angeles Times.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-01-25. Retrieved 2015-11-06.
  9. ^ a b Robert Flemming,BIBR talks to Johnnie Cochran Archived 2007-10-12 at the Wayback Machine., Black Issues Book Review, Nov-Dec 2002; retrieved April 23, 2006.
  10. ^ a b Jared Grimmer, Johnnie Cochran Archived 2003-08-01 at the Wayback Machine.,; April 20, 2006.
  11. ^ Collins, Ronald K. L.; Skover, David M. (2002). The Trials of Lenny Bruce. Maryland: Sourcebooks MediaFusion. p. 21. ISBN 1570719861.
  12. ^ a b c Kevin Merida, Johnnie Cochran, the Attorney On the People's Defense Team,, March 31, 2005; retrieved April 22, 2006.
  13. ^ Johnnie Cochran - Trial Attorney Archived 2006-05-15 at the Wayback Machine. by, retrieved April 22, 2006.
  14. ^ The Honorable Jock Smith,; accessed February 17, 2015.
  15. ^ Johnnie Cochran tort reform interview by Sky News Network, retrieved May 4, 2006.
  16. ^ a b Rupert Cornwell, Obituary: Johnnie Cochran, The (London) Independent, March 31, 2005; retrieved April 17, 2005.
  17. ^ a b Remembering Johnnie Cochran, April 1, 2005 broadcast,, April 1, 2005.
  18. ^ Jeffrey Meitrodt and Mark Schleifstein, Through The Cracks,, March 27, 2001; retrieved April 29, 2006.
  19. ^ Michelle Waters (January 27, 2015). "Professor Uelman credited for iconic Simpson trial quote". Santa Clara Law School Faculty News.
  20. ^ In Contempt by Christopher Darden, published 1996.
  21. ^ Steve Hammer,Johnnie Cochran speaks his mind,, October 19, 1995; retrieved May 4, 2006.
  22. ^ Peter Noel, "The Louima Millions",, July 18–24, 2001; retrieved April 18, 2005.
  23. ^ "'Puffy' Combs Indicted On Stolen Weapons Charge; Atty. Johnnie Cochran Joins His Legal Team" Archived 2005-09-03 at the Wayback Machine.,, January 31, 2000; retrieved April 23, 2006.
  24. ^ a b Defense superstar Johnnie Cochran dead at 67,, March 30, 2005; retrieved April 18, 2005.
  25. ^ Tony Mauro, Cochran ruling only narrow free-speech victory,, June 1, 2005; retrieved April 29, 2006.
  26. ^ Middle school renamed after Johnnie Cochran,, January 26, 2006; retrieved April 29, 2006.
  27. ^ "Council Approves 'Johnnie Cochran Vista' Designation in Honor of Famed Civil Rights Lawyer", City of Los Angeles, May 11, 2007  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
  28. ^ Stephen Ceasar, "School names can be lessons in recognition", Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2012; retrieved April 6, 2016.
  29. ^ Sandy Banks, "Celebrities gather to dedicate brain tumor center", Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2007.
  30. ^ Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Brain Tumor Center,; accessed February 17, 2015.
  31. ^ Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Chair in Civil Rights Archived 2014-03-27 at the Wayback Machine. Loyola Law School. 2016. Retrieved March 22, 2016
  32. ^ Loyola Law School, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-03-27. Retrieved 2016-02-18.; retrieved February 17, 2016.
  33. ^ Profile Archived 2007-06-08 at the Wayback Machine.,; accessed February 17, 2015.
  34. ^ Robert J. Sales, Johnnie Cochran to be MLK speaker,, January 10, 2001; retrieved May 11, 2006.
  35. ^ Michael Dunne (2001). Intertextual Encounters in American Fiction, Film, and Popular Culture. Popular Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-87972-848-9.
  36. ^ Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (2016). Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything. Simon & Schuster. p. 151. ISBN 978-1-4767-5612-7.
  37. ^ The Chewbacca Defense, retrieved 2017-01-20
  38. ^ Cochran, Johnnie (November 1, 2003). A Lawyer's Life. Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 9780312319670. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  39. ^ Parker, Trey; Stone, Matt; Lopez, Robert (2011). Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.

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