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Famous clients mourn Johnnie Cochran at funeral in LA

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Johnnie Cochran Jr. was mourned Wednesday by celebrated clients such as O.J. Simpson and Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt but he was also recalled as an attorney who sought justice for ordinary people.

"Our brother Johnnie Cochran deserves a standing ovation from everybody in this house," the Rev. Calvin Butts said during Cochran's funeral at West Angeles Cathedral, drawing applause from a huge throng that ranged from the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to Michael Jackson and his attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr.

"He didn't just love justice or admire justice -- he did justice, he achieved justice, he fought for justice, he made it happen," said Mayor James Hahn, the former city attorney and a Cochran friend. "Certainly in Los Angeles history he will be in the pantheon of the great trial lawyers that we've seen."

Simpson, who was among Cochran clients acknowledged at the service, said earlier: "He was just a good friend, a good Christian man and a great lawyer."

The range of attendees reflected Cochran's work in high-profile civil rights cases and high-glamour trials. Also paying respects were such celebrities as Stevie Wonder and Earvin "Magic" Johnson.

"We've known him for representing O.J. and Michael, but he was bigger and better than that," Johnson said outside. "He represented people you've never heard of."

Cochran was 67 when he died March 29 of an inoperable brain tumor at his home in Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with the tumor in December 2003.

Colorful and eloquent, he became a legal superstar after helping clear Simpson during a sensational murder trial in which he uttered the famous quote "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," a reference to a glove found at the murder scene.

The line was on the back of T-shirts being sold for $10 outside the church, where 5,000 people were expected to attend the funeral. The shirts had a picture of Cochran on the front with the words: "Freedom and justice."

In a tribute advertisement published in the Los Angeles Times, former colleagues called attention to a lesser-known case -- Cochran's advocacy for people affected by 1921 race riots in Tulsa, Okla.

"We will continue the struggle in his memory and honor," said the ad from the Center for Racial Justice. A federal appeals court last year denied an effort to reinstate the group's lawsuit over the riots, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

Also among mourners were other members of Simpson's legal "dream team" including Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, as well as actress Angela Bassett, Rep. Maxine Waters, U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall, who went to high school with Cochran, and high-profile attorney Gloria Allred.

Former Cochran client Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was tortured by New York police, arrived with Sharpton.

"He was my lawyer and my friend," Louima said of Cochran outside the cathedral.

Cochran's other high-profile clients included Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, football great Jim Brown, actor Todd Bridges and rappers Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg.

In 1997, Cochran won freedom for Pratt, a former Black Panther who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. The attorney called the moment "the happiest day of my life practicing law."

Before entering the cathedral, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said Cochran was among "the great warriors who really used the legal system to gain a measure of freedom and justice for people. Johnnie was a symbol of that for all of us."

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Associated Press Writer Daisy Nguyen contributed to this report.

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1 UserComments
Hurley R. Dobbs 4:10pm January 7, 2011

Johnnie was a great humanitarian. He dedicated his life to helping people. I know he's at a much better place now; thank God for him.