Cochran, Johnnie L., Jr. 1937-
COCHRAN, Johnnie L., Jr. 1937-
PERSONAL: Born October 2, 1937, in Shreveport, LA; son of Johnnie Cochran and Hattie (Bass) Cochran; second wife's name, Dale; children: Three children. Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.S., 1959; Loyola University School of Law, J.D., 1962; University of Southern California, postgraduate study.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Thomas Dunne Books, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
CAREER: Attorney. Called to the Bar of the State of California, 1963, U.S. District Court (Western District, TX), 1966, U.S. Supreme Court, 1968; City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, deputy city attorney, criminal division, 1963-65; Cochran, Atkins, and Evans (law firm), cofounder, 1966; Los Angeles County assistant district attorney, 1978-80; law offices maintained in multiple cities, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. Adjunct professor of law, University of California, Los Angeles, and Loyola University School of Law; special counsel and chairman of rules committee, 1984 Democratic National Convention; special counsel to U.S. House of Representatives Ninety-ninth Congress. Member of various boards of directors; has appeared on Court TV.
MEMBER: International Academy of Trial Lawyers, American College of Trial Lawyers, various bar associations.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year, Los Angeles Criminal Courts Bar Association, 1977; inducted into American College of Trial Lawyers, 1993; selected among Best Lawyers in America, 1994; inducted into Inner Circle of Advocates; Golden Bell Award.
(With Tim Rutten) Journey to Justice, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1996.
(With David Fisher) A Lawyer's Life, Thomas Dunne Books (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. practiced law for decades before becoming a household name when in 1995, he led the "Dream Team" that represented O. J. Simpson, who was ultimately found not guilty of the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Cochran, who has multiple offices around the country, has also represented other celebrities, including Michael Jackson, who was accused of child molestation, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Tupac Shakur, and rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs, who was accused of being involved in a 1999 shooting incident.
Cochran was a prosecutor for many years before he left his position as assistant district attorney for Los Angeles County to go into private practice. Most of his clients have not been celebrities. He represented Leonard Deadwyler, a black man who was stopped by the police for speeding as he took his wife to the hospital to deliver their child, and who was then shot and killed. Other lawsuits in which racism and police brutality were charged include that of Abner Louima, through which Cochran also sought to change the rule that forbid the questioning of policemen for forty-eight hours following an incident. When he represented Reginald Denny, a white man who was beaten by a black mob during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Cochran claimed that the Los Angeles Police Department had engaged in racial discrimination by not providing adequate protection to the neighborhood where Denny was assaulted. Cochran has handled many cases at no charge to his clients. He spent decades seeking the release of Black Panther Geronimo Pratt and was successful through a 1997 appellate ruling.
Journey to Justice is Cochran's autobiography, in which he writes of his family's influence on his life, his childhood, school years, marriages, and friendships. Paula Farmer noted in Black Collegian that he "is quick to credit his family and their support for getting him through those challenging academic years. In fact, he cites family, along with a strong Christian base, for successfully transitioning him to the stages of his life. … His parents inspired commitment to ambition, education and religion, which were not just practiced on Sundays." In referring to several of his well-publicized lawsuits, Farmer said that "the same passion that motivates Cochran to take on such cases also keeps him believing in the system he knows can be racially biased," that he "clings to his mother's belief that ultimately truth prevails and he sees the alternative of giving up as not a viable option for future generations."
Cochran writes about his famous cases, and mostly about the Simpson case. Jeffrey Rosen reviewed the book and the trial in New Republic, saying that Cochran's strategy for Simpson's defense "was a textbook implementation of the premises of the critical race movement. Cochran methodically selected an African American jury, predicting correctly that their racially fraught experiences with the police would influence their perception of the facts. He set out, through storytelling and the manipulation of racial iconography, to create a narrative that transformed O. J. from coddled celebrity into the civil rights martyr of a racist police force. He put Mark Fuhrman's racial epithets on trial, suggesting, in the manner of a good social constructionist, that, because reality is owed to language, hate speech can be compared to physical assault."
The prosecutor in the case, Christopher Darden, like Cochran, is black, but Cochran charged that Darden failed to accept Cochran's arguments based on the necessity of racial solidarity. Rosen said that the case "is something of an embarrassment for critical race theorists. … Yetitis also something of a vindication for them. The Simpson case confirmed one of the central descriptive claims of critical race theory: that perceptions are racially contingent, and that a jarring gap in perceptions between whites and blacks can no longer be denied."
Kamili Anderson, who reviewed Journey to Justice in Black Issues in Higher Education, said that the memoir, "one of the more compelling volumes to waft ashore in the backwash of the Simpson affair, presents a similarly successful vindication of Cochran, who took quite a few hits himself—along with his profession—in that trial. In this highly readable and engaging autobiography, Cochran weaves a plausible, if not unabashedly self-serving and purposely inspirational tale of his lifelong love affair with the law. It is a tale that, if approached with the same open mind expected of jurors, squarely positions Cochran as one of the most outstanding trial lawyers of today." Anderson noted that Cochran makes comparisons of his career to those of Clarence Darrow and Thurgood Marshall, painting himself "as a willing servant of the people—albeit an often highly compensated one—and a bonafide member of the 'Talented Tenth' of black high achievers. As well, he shows himself to be one who has [learned] how to meld—without compromising his 'soul'—into the distinctively different yet inextricably intertwined worlds of black and white—and to be comfortable, successful, and outspoken in both."
Anderson felt that Cochran's recollections of his marriages, affair with a white woman with whom he had a child, and his experiences with prosecutors Darden and Marcia Clark and other members of the defense team, including Robert Shapiro, "will appear just a bit too squeaky clean for most readers, or they are glossed over like so much tangential (possibly damaging?) detail." Anderson wrote that "this rags-to-riches story seems almost too pastoral, like a West Coast version of Once upon a Time When We Were Colored or an ebonized The Golden Boy."
David Nicholson wrote in Washington Post Book World that this is a book "that didn't need to be written" and that will "leave all but the most O. J.-obsessed feeling exhausted and grimy. A year after the verdict, the O. J. Simpson trial and its aftermath remain a kind of tarbaby, and all of us, black and white, are stuck to it, blaming each other for our plight. The truth, unpalatable as it may be, is that we're all to blame. And it's also true that, in a curious way, Simpson's acquittal justifies the faith black Americans have always had that one day America would live up to the promise of its ideals." Nicholson commented that although race matters, the Simpson trial may have demonstrated that the dollar matters "even more. Because a black man with enough money can get away with murder, just the way a rich white man can."
In reviewing Cochran's second book, A Lawyer's Life, in Publishers Weekly, a contributor said that "Cochran's experience gives him the authority to titter some uncomfortable truths, among them that justice is often reserved for the wealthy."
A Kirkus Reviews writer felt that the book "may frustrate readers seeking insight into Cochran's inarguably brilliant legal mind. … Still, Cochran does give some accounting of his working methods. … As well, he ably explores the depth of racism in American society and the consequent difficulty of African Americans and members of other minority groups to find justice."
Robert Fleming reviewed the volume in Black Issues Book Review, calling A Lawyers's Life "an enthralling, provocative book. … His recounting of the New York City police abuse cases are especially riveting." Fleming concluded by calling the book a "well-done, insightful collection of introspection and reminiscence that will make every black American proud that this accomplished legal eagle exists in these troubled times."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 11, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Newsmakers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996, 1997.
Notable Black Men, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Black Collegian, October, 1999, Paula Farmer, "Johnnie Cochran Pursues His Lifelong Passion to Promote Racial Justice," p. 134.
Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2002, Robert Fleming, review of A Lawyer's Life, p. 44.
Black Issues in Higher Education, November 2, 1995, William E. Cox and Frank L. Matthews, "Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr." (interview), p. 6; December 12, 1996, William E. Cox, "Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.'s Remarkable Journey" (interview), p. 20, Kamili Anderson, review of Journey to Justice, p. 30.
Jet, June 4, 2001, "Why Johnnie Cochran is the Nation's Most Famous Attorney" (interview), p. 12.
Journal of Psychiatry and Law, summer, 1997, Ralph Slovenko, review of Journey to Justice, pp. 293-298.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of A Lawyer's Life, pp. 1190-1191.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 13, 1996, Randall Kennedy, review of Journey to Justice, p. 4.
New Crisis, May-June, 1999, Luther Brown, Jr., "The Education of Johnnie Cochran" (interview), p. 14.
New Republic, December 9, 1996, Jeffrey Rosen, review of Journey to Justice, p. 27.
New York, January 22, 2001, Nina Burleigh, "Johnnie Come Lately," pp. 40-45, 87.
Publishers Weekly, August 5, 2002, review of A Lawyer's Life, p. 61.
Stanford Law Review, April, 1997, George Fisher, review of Journey to Justice, pp. 971-1019.
Washington Post Book World, November, 1996, David Nicholson, review of Journey to Justice, p. 5.*