Gregg Reese | 2/6/2008, 5 p.m.
Johnnie Cochran Sr. still going strong
Keeps Johnnie Cochran Jr.'s legacy alive
By Shirley Hawkins
OW Staff Writer
It takes a monumental human being to raise a giant on the national stage, but Johnnie Cochran Sr., 91, shrugs modestly when asked about his late son, the acclaimed lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr.
The eyes of the elder Cochran twinkle with pride as he recalls his celebrated son, who stunned the world when he died of a brain tumor at the age of 67 in March of 2005. As he strolls in front of a huge life-size portrait of his offspring that graces the fireplace of his spacious, sun dappled Los Feliz home, the elder Cochran recalls that he tried to instill in the young Cochran the importance of the company he kept and tried to provide him with a good moral background. "I tried to bring Johnnie up in a good environment and help him to choose good friends. Children's friends will have far more influence than parents, and so I made sure that Johnnie chose good friends," Cochran recalls.
Both Cochrans were born on October 20, and his Johnnie Jr. were devout Christians who hailed from Shreveport, Louisiana. The elder Cochran also revealed that he kept his son in church and in prayer. "My wife and I brought Johnnie up in the Second Baptist Church," said Cochran, referring to one of the oldest black Baptist churches in Los Angeles.
Cochran said that his son's desire to become a lawyer blossomed as a child. "Johnnie told us he wanted to be a lawyer from the time he was about nine years old, even though his mother wanted him to become a doctor," Cochran chuckles. "Thurgood Marshall was Johnnie's idol. Johnnie wanted to be just like Thurgood."
During his lifetime, Johnnie more than surpassed that goal. Often referred to as the 'Thurgood Marshall of his era,' Johnnie went on to win a number of landmark victories and achieve several 'firsts' in the legal world.
Johnnie joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office in 1978 as the first African American Assistant District Attorney. Five years later, Cochran opened the Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. law firm.
As his career in law took off, Cochran won a number of groundbreaking decisions against official misconduct within the criminal justice system. There was Leonard Deadwyler, a black motorist stopped for speeding to the hospital with his pregnant wife, then shot dead by police; and Ron Settles, a black college football star whose death was rumored to be at the hands of police and was made to look like suicide. And then there was the record $9.4-million-dollar jury verdict he won for a 13-year-old Latina girl molested by a uniformed LAPD officer. Cochran fought to change police procedures responsible for blatant abuse by those sworn to "protect and serve."
Johnnie would later open The Cochran Firm, a law firm specializing in personal injury cases which has grown through mergers and partnerships to have offices in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D. C.
Many recall Johnnie's well-honed rhetoric and flamboyance in the courtroom that often left jurors, judges and witnesses mesmerized. He went on to defend former NFL great O. J. Simpson, who was accused of killing his wife Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, Nicole's friend. He also defended pop star Michael Jackson against child molestation charges, a case which was settled out of court. But according to the elder Cochran, Johnnie was most proud of winning the release of former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt. "My son worked to get Pratt's release for 27 years," recalls Cochran, who said that Pratt and Johnnie remained lifelong friends. "He told me that that was the 'happiest day' of his legal practice."
Cochran Sr. who was a district manager and trainer with Golden State Life Mutual Insurance for 36 years, said that he would often talk to his son late into the night about many of his cases. "He asked me if he should take on the O. J. Simpson case, and I said yes," recalls Cochran. After trying on the infamous black glove allegedly used in the killings that was broadcast from the courtroom to witnesses all around the world, Johnnie would rise to national prominence after uttering one of the most widely quoted lines in recent times, "If it don't fit, you must acquit."
"Johnnie loved people," his father remembers, who said he still receives phone calls, letters and requests about Johnnie. "He was passionate about justice. He was a champion about justice for all people."
Reflecting on the Democratic race and candidate Barak Obama, Cochran smiles. "It seems to me that Obama and Johnnie were cut from the same cloth," nods Cochran. "Although I like both of the Democratic candidates, I think it's phenomenal that Obama is in the race. He's an unusual person, and he is certainly qualified to run for president of the country."
The elder Cochran smiles a sweet, melancholy smile as he reflects back on his son's remarkable life. Reminiscing about the celebrated attorney who defended rich and poor alike, Cochran recalls a quote that Johnnie was fond of repeating: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."