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Jewish World Review June 16, 2000/13 Sivan, 5760

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports

The good times of Johnnie Cochran -- LOOK IN THE DICTIONARY, under the word "gall." You might find a picture of defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran. If it doesn't appear, it should.

June 12, 2000, marks the sixth anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. On "Larry King Live," Johnnie Cochran, along with prosecutor Christopher Darden, discussed the aftermath of the "Trial of the Century" on this anniversary.

Cochran was pure Cochran. No, said Cochran, don't blame him for playing the race card. After all, the credibility of Detective Mark Fuhrman, who allegedly planted a glove, arose before Cochran became a member of the so-called "Dream Team." And, of course, Fuhrman, having used the "n" word several times in a taped discussion with an aspiring screenwriter, had both the motive and opportunity to manufacture evidence. Right.

Why didn't Simpson take the stand in his defense? After all, he pops up here and there on various talk shows to explain his side, an opportunity certainly afforded him during the criminal trial. Cochran says Simpson wanted to testify, implying that this would have been perfectly acceptable to Cochran. But, you know, fear of jury exhaustion prevented Simpson from taking the stand. It was, of course, far more important to save time than to demonstrate his innocence by testifying on his own behalf. Blah-blah-blah.

Many of the "Trial of the Century" characters wrote books, and most exhausted their 15 minutes of fame. Cochran, Christopher Darden, Robert Shapiro, Marcia Clark, several jurors, Faye Resnick (O. J. Simpson's girlfriend), and Simpson, himself, all penned books. But, notice anyone missing? Where's Judge Lance Ito? Since the jury acquitted Simpson, Ito could speak about the case if he wished. Instead, silence.

My theory? Judge Ito feels embarrassed. He knows that the entire Fuhrman line of inquiry, whether he used the "n" word in the last 10 years, was completely irrelevant and absolutely prejudicial to the prosecution.

Cochran's fast-talking aside, no credible evidence even remotely established that Mark Fuhrman planted the glove to implicate Simpson. Nothing. Yet Ito allowed the defense team to raise this, as well as other bogus diversions, such as whether the stabbings constituted a "Colombian Necktie" or drug-related killing.


Ito also allowed lengthy, ponderous evidence challenging the validity of the DNA evidence, testimony that could and should have been reduced to a fraction of what both sides presented. Ito, doubtless, is further embarrassed when compared to the performance of Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki, who handled the civil case that found Simpson unanimously liable for both murders. There, Judge Fujisaki conducted the trial in a streamlined fashion, excluding silly, irrelevant evidence.

Apparently fearing reversal upon Simpson's conviction, Ito allowed the defense more room to roam than permitted by most judges. Of the many reasons that Simpson remains free -- a jury with diminished capacity, prosecutorial tactical mistakes, luck, moving the trial from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. -- Judge Ito's conduct ranks high on the list.

And of Cochran? These are great times. He is now an international lawyer, flies first class, and stays four-star. He is smart, articulate, works hard, and possesses charisma. But of all of his skills, the first and best remains his sheer nerve, his gall. As he said during the Simpson trial, people look at me and are convinced that I believe in his innocence. Someone once asked a comedian how to succeed in television. The key, he said, is sincerity. And if you can fake it, you've got it made.

Recently, a jury convicted a man of killing his girlfriend's 3-year-old son, chopping him up, and feeding him to the family dog. Surely, this case would tax the limits of even the most skillful attorney.

So how would The Man deal with this? How would Cochran argue mitigating circumstances? If Cochran spoke on behalf of this client, one could imagine at least 10 excuses:

10. Your honor, it was self-defense.
9. Your honor, my dog was really, really hungry.
8. Your honor, I couldn't afford to cremate him.
7. Your honor, my dog is an addict: He had the munchies.
6. Your honor, look at it this way. Finally somebody came up with something worse than fruitcake.
5. Your honor, doesn't the dog bear at least some of the responsibility?
4. Your honor, it may have been gross, but at least it was low-fat.
3. Your honor, remember W. C. Fields' helpful suggestion -- "Anyone who hates dogs and kids can't be all bad."
2. Your honor, at least the boy didn't suffer.
1. Your honor, you may find this hard to believe, but most of the time the kid and me got along pretty good.

Ron and Nicole are dead. O. J. Simpson is free, but vilified. But Johnnie L. Cochran just keeps going and going and going ...

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate