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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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A coroner determined that Settles had been strangled by a police choke hold. A pre-trial settlement brought the grieving family $760,
The Settles case settlement was the first in a series of damage awards that Cochran has won for clients—some observers estimate he has won between $40 and $43 million from various California municipalities and police districts in judgments for his clients. Essence reporter Diane Weathers wrote: "Cochran is not just another rich celebrity lawyer. His specialty is suing City Hall on behalf of many fameless people who don't sing, dance or score touchdowns and who have been framed, beaten up, shot at, humiliated and sometimes killed at the hands of the notorious LAPD."
Success begot success for Cochran. The Settles case was followed by another emotional case in which an off-duty police officer molested a teenager and threatened her with bodily harm if she told anyone. In that case Cochran spurned an out-of-court settlement in six figures and took the issue to the courtroom—where a jury awarded his client $9.4 million. A post-verdict settlement paid the young woman $4.6 million.
As Cochran's fame grew, his client list began to include more celebrities, of which pop singer Michael Jackson is the best known. On Jackson's behalf, Cochran arranged an out-of-court settlement with a boy who had accused the singer of molestation. Cochran had the case retired in such a way that the charges against Jackson were withdrawn, and Jackson could publicly proclaim his complete innocence. Cochran also engineered an acquittal for Diff'rent Strokes star Todd Bridges, who stood accused of attempted murder.
No celebrity trial was more followed than O. J. Simpson's trial, however. In the summer of 1994, Simpson was arrested and charged with the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. Simpson declared that he was innocent, and he engaged Cochran as part of an expensive "dream team" of lawyers dedicated to his defense. Before long, Cochran had replaced Robert Shapiro as leader of the "dream team" as the matter was brought to trial. Calling the O. J. Simpson trial a "classic rush-to-judgment case," Cochran vowed to win an acquittal for the football star-turned-television celebrity. Responding to questions about the nickname for his legal team, Cochran told Time: "We certainly don't refer to ourselves as the Dream Team. We're just a collection of lawyers just trying to do the best we can."
One week into the Simpson trial in February of 1995, Time reported that Cochran had "unveiled an unexpectedly strong defense." With his engaging manner and sincerity, Cochran sought to poke holes in the case against Simpson as presented by district attorneys Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. Piece by piece, he challenged the evidence, paying special attention to the racist attitudes of one of the investigating officers, Mark Fuhrman.
Cochran was effective—and controversial—in his closing arguments on Simpson's behalf. He claimed his client had been framed by a racist police officer, and that if such injustice were allowed to persist, it could lead to genocide as practiced by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
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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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