Johnnie Come Lately

Black Activists Say O. J. Simpson's Lawyer Is on a Quest To Hijack the New York Civil rights Movement

This insider maintained that Cochran seems to be filling a void in black legal advocacy created by the 1995 disbarment of Mason for fee gouging and theft, and the 1990 suspension of Maddox for allegedly hampering an investigation into his conduct at the height of the Brawley fiasco.

"He hasn't defended Maddox and Mason because he wants to replace them--not Al Sharpton," this source said. "His threat is to Carl Thomas and Casilda Roper-Simpson and those other young black activist lawyers. He is more apt to be smashing them even if it means he has to go to Al Sharpton's house and host a party to prove he is not coming after him."

"Killer Cochran,"as lawyer Daniel Petrocelli refers to his California colleague in Petrocelli's new book, Triumph of Justice, did seem to be quiteadept at "smashing" potential New York legal competitor Carl Thomas. On April 25, two days after the New Jersey Turnpike shooting, Al Sharpton contacted Thomas and asked him to act as a legal adviser to the family of Leroy Grant, one of the victims, who had pleaded with Sharpton to explain his side of the story at a news conference.

The next day the Grant family appeared at Newark's Abyssinian Baptist Church with Keshon Moore, the driver of the minivan, and his family. Sharpton, Thomas, and Ken Timmons, a New Jersey–based investigator, interrogated Moore for about an hour to determine whether he had withheldinformation.

Moore's response remained consistent, they said: he and the other young men in the van did not have any drugs or guns. "Just a Bible and a novel." He insisted that after they were stopped, one of the troopers knocked on the window with the butt of his gun, and that it startled him. When the minivan then started rolling backward, the troopers opened fire.

"I'm trusting him," Sharpton told the Voice. "I'm on a limb with all the reasons in the world not to get involved." But two days later Sharpton found himself in Camden, deeply entrenched in the case. He had been summoned there to monitor a media interview with Leroy Grant and the family of another victim of the shooting, Danny Reyes. The Reyes family told Sharpton that their lawyer, David Ironman,was involved in negotiations with Johnnie Cochran about taking over the case.

"Johnnie Cochran?" a Sharpton aide blurted out. "Why would Ironman give his case to Cochran? What is that all about?"

"Probably some crap they're using to impress Rev,"another aide speculated.

Two days later, Leroy Grant called Sharpton from the hospital. According to a source present when Sharpton took the call, "Grant said Reyes had told him he ought to talk to Johnnie Cochran." But Grant said he remained committed to Sharpton and was not overly concerned about friction between Cochran and Sharpton because Reyes had told him that "Johnnie said him and Rev. Al are cool."

In the meantime, Cochran had reached out to Grant. The victim's father told Sharpton that Cochran had phoned his son to wish him a speedy recovery and say that he was praying for him and might be representing Reyes. Then Cochran told Sharpton what he had done. "He said, 'I want you to know I called the Grant kid and we're praying for him,' " a Sharpton aide recalled.

The aide contacted Carl Thomas and briefed him about Cochran's call to the minister and his interest in Leroy Grant. "If Johnnie wants the case let him have it," the aide quoted Thomas as saying. "I'm not fighting over cases; we want justice."

With Sharpton's vocal support of the Turnpike Four, the case turned into a cause célèbre. Cochran, according to the Sharpton aide, felt comfortable enough to emerge from behindthescenes to identify with the victims. "Johnnie starts moving in," the aide said. "Johnnie starts romancing Reyes; Reyes and themstarts romancing the Grant family and the next thing we know they are planning a press conference with Johnnie, Barry Scheck, and Peter Neufeld to announce that they are coming in the case."

Along with the family of Rayshawn Brown, who was wounded twice in the shooting, Sharpton rebuffed an invitation to be present at the announcement. As far as the minister knew, the Grant family had not retained Cochran. "Carl was our first choice," the aide explained. "Carl and Johnnie have their differences over Abner Louima, but some of us felt Carl shouldn't be shoved aside." Sharpton, he added, strongly advised the Grant family that they should go with the lawyer of their choice as long as it did not appear that the family was disrespecting Thomas.

On May 9, Leroy Grant made his first public appearance since the shooting at a House of Justice rally hosted by Sharpton. "He told Reverend, 'Well, I want to go with Johnnie because I think he got Reyes and all of us should be together. I'll make sure he works with the other guy.' " Sharpton, the aide acknowledged, felt trapped, and privately voiced his frustration over the predicament.

" 'In all fairness,' he said, 'Carl helped turn the case around.' We are saying Johnnie Cochran came in after the case had turned. Suppose that weekend the cops came back and announced that they had pulled a bag of heroin or a gun outta that car, Revand Carl Thomas's asses woulda been grass. After all the risks were taken and the road was clear, heeeeere's Johnnie."

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