Home Personality All About O. J. Simpson’s Controversial Lawyer: Johnnie Cochran

All About O. J. Simpson’s Controversial Lawyer: Johnnie Cochran

by Louise W. Rice
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Johnnie Cochran was one of the most famous and controversial lawyers in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. He specialized in cases related to police brutality and violence.

He also represented many public figures, such as Michael Jackson, O. J. Simpson, Tupac Shakur, and Snoop Dogg.

If you’re ready to learn more about the lawyer who influenced the American public and solidified the presence of black people in the courtroom, this guide is for you.

Join me while we explore Cochran’s early life, education, rise to fame as a lawyer, and estimated net worth before he died in 2005.

Quick Facts About Johnnie Cochran

In a rush? Here are some basic details about Johnnie:

Full name Johnnie Lee Cochran Jr.
Place of birth Shreveport, Louisiana
Date of birth October 2, 1937
Date of death March 29, 2005 (aged 67 years)
Occupation American Attorney
Spouse(s) Sylvia Dale (m. 1985–2005)

Barbara Berry Cochran (m. 1960–1977)

Children Tiffany Cochran, Jonathan Cochran, and Melodie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran’s Early Life and Education

Cochran was born in Louisiana, but his family moved to Los Angeles in 1949, and that’s where he went to school and college.

He attended Los Angeles High School and excelled in his studies, graduating top of his class in 1955.

As for college, he went to the University of California and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business economics. Soon afterward, he earned a Juris Doctor degree to practice law from Loyola Law School in 1962.

The following year, he passed the California bar exam, kicking off his legal career as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles. Then, in 1966, he established a law firm—Cochran, Atkins & Evans.

Legal Career and Notable Cases

One of the first cases that Johnnie Cochran worked on was where he represented a widow whose husband the police brutally murdered.

Even though he didn’t win that case, it changed his perspective and made him realize the pivotal role he could play in addressing police brutality issues.

He also understood the impact that this trial had made on the black community, raising awareness about crime-related affairs.

By the late ‘70s, he established himself as the go-to lawyer for anyone who wanted someone to represent them in police brutality cases. He was well-known in the black community by then, becoming First Assistant District Attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

As his popularity and influence grew, he started his own Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. law firm and continued his march toward justice for black people.

Another noteworthy client during that period was the family of black college football player Ron Settles. Cochran’s efforts in the courtroom enabled the parents to receive a substantial settlement after the police reportedly murdered the athlete.

O. J. Simpson and the Legendary Acquittal

Despite being a prominent figure in the legal world by the late ‘80s, it was really O. J. Simpson’s trial that made Cochran’s reputation go sky-high in 1995. That trial was nicknamed the “trial of the century,” watched by everyone in the U.S. and across the globe.

oj simpson and the legendary acquittal

Image source: Pinterest

How the Dream Team Weaseled Simpson Out?

Cochran teamed up with Alan Dershowitz, Robert Shapiro, Barry Scheck, F. Lee Bailey, and Robert Kardashian to defend the athlete and actor against murder charges.

During the high-profile public trial that spanned eight months, Cochran’s theatrical style and legal prowess was the star of the show.

What’s fascinating to me is that the prosecution presented evidence that O. J. Simpson had murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman. Yet, Johnnie Cochran still managed to convince the jury that he wasn’t guilty.

nicole brown simpson

Image source: Pinterest

His arguments always had underlying hints that the police were trying to frame Simpson for the murder. As for his closing argument, it centered around his famous phrase, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

He created that phrase when the prosecutors asked Simpson to put on a bloodied glove that was reportedly worn by the murderer. Apparently, the glove didn’t fit him perfectly, and Cochran took that as a chance to pounce on prosecution.

Plus, his allegations of racism against Simpson weren’t that far-fetched either. Upon investigation of Detective Mark Fuhrman’s background (which was Bailey’s area of expertise), the team found out he made racist remarks about black citizens.

Cochran even went further in his closing argument to compare the detective’s beliefs to those of Adolf Hitler!

Simpson Eventually Faces Civil Litigation

Later, Simpson was found liable for these two deaths in the following civil trial. But Cochran didn’t represent him at that time.

He was ordered to pay millions of dollars of damages to both the Goldman and Brown families, namely $33.5 million.

However, he only managed to pay $132,000 as of 2022. And when you factor in interest over 27 years, you’ll know he currently owes these families a staggering $114 million!

You’ll be blown away when you find out that the ex-football player died on April 10th after suffering from cancer without paying the compensation.

Johnnie Cochran’s Controversies

After the famous trial, public opinion was drastically divided.

Some people praised Cochran’s intelligence and dedication to clear his client’s name. Others criticized his use of racism as a means to get the acquittal despite evidence.

But there was a general agreement that Cochran was a force to be reckoned with, helping him establish a celebrity-like status. Allegedly, he was paid $2.5 million to write a memoir.

Yet, some disturbing details about his personal life came out after his ex-wife released her own memoir, pulling him back into controversy.

In her book, Life After Johnnie Cochran: Why I Left the Sweetest Talking, Most Successful Black Lawyer in L.A. Barbara Cochran Berry accused him of physical abuse and mental cruelty.

Other Cases That Cochran Handled

Other noteworthy cases that he handled include:

  • Abner Louima ($8.75 million settlement for police brutality)
  • Sean Combs (acquittal on charges of bribery and stolen weapons)
  • Todd Bridges (acquittal on charges of attempted murder)
  • Michael Jackson (out-of-court settlement for child molestation charges)

Johnnie Cochran’s Death

Cochran died on March 29, 2005, after suffering from a brain tumor, which his associates had hinted about to the public in 2004.

The diagnosis had been made earlier in 2003, and he underwent surgery the following year.

He was 67 when he passed away.

Johnnie Cochran’s Estimated Net Worth

According to several reputable sources across the web, Johnnie Cochran had a net worth of $8 million before his death.

Some sources that date back to 2001 claim he would be worth $25–50 million in five years.

Final Thoughts

Whether you agree or disagree with his opinions and arguments, you have to admit that Johnnie Cochran had a major influence on the legal system.

I hope my article has fed your curiosity about one of the U.S.’s most controversial (and successful) lawyers. We covered his education, his commitment to helping the black community, and his signature courtroom style.

I also dove into some details about the O. J. Simpson case so that you’ll feel like you were there during the trial!


Featured image source: Pinterest

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