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Attorney Johnnie Cochran took on highly publicized police brutality cases and famously defended such celebrity clients as Michael Jackson and O. J. Simpson.
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Cochran earned a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1959, supporting himself by selling insurance policies for his father's company. He was accepted by the Loyola Marymount University School of Law and began his studies there in the autumn of 1959. "I was the kind of student that didn't want to look like a jerk, always raising my hand," Cochran recalled in The American Lawyer. "But I would sit there and pray that I would be called on. That was my competitive spirit lying in wait."
Having finished his law studies and passed the California bar by 1963, Cochran took a job with the city of Los Angeles, serving as a deputy city attorney in the criminal division. There he worked as a prosecutor. In 1965, he entered private practice with the late Gerald Lenoir, a well-known local criminal lawyer. After a short period with Lenoir, he formed his own firm, Cochran, Atkins & Evans. Cochran's career was launched from this office with a highly-publicized and inflammatory case.
In May of 1966, a young black man named Leonard Deadwyler was shot dead by police as he tried to rush his pregnant wife to the hospital. Cochran represented Deadwyler's family, who accused the police of needless brutality in their son's murder. The Los Angeles Police Department insisted that the officers had acted in self-defense. "To me, this was clearly a bad shooting," Cochran maintained in The American Lawyer. "But the [district attorney] did not file charges, and when our firm filed a civil suit we lost. Those were extremely difficult cases to win in those days.
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Learn more about black history's most esteemed legal professionals, from African-American pioneers such as George Washington Williams and Constance Baker Motley, to legendary Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Thurgood Marshall, to high-profile Harvard grads Barack and Michelle Obama, and many more. Explore our list of famous black lawyers, including full biographies, photo galleries and videos, only on Biography.com.
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