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Johnnie Cochran to be MLK speaker

Johnnie Cochran
Johnnie Cochran

EDITOR'S NOTE 1/19/01: Mr. Cochran had to withdraw when the judge in a high profile trial refused to grant a postponement and ordered all attorneys to be in court ready for trial. The new MLK speaker at MIT will be Lani Guinier.

Attorney and civil rights leader Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. will deliver the keynote address at MIT's 27th annual celebratory breakfast to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on February 8 in Morss Hall at Walker Memorial. He will address the theme of this year's celebration, "Confronting the Gap: Building and Sustaining Inclusion."

A brochure distributed by Mr. Cochran's law firm in the 1990s says in bold type on the first page that "each lawyer in the firm has literally adopted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s maxim that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'"

The public is invited to the 7:30am breakfast, hosted by President Charles M. Vest and his wife, Rebecca M. Vest. Seating is limited, with reservations required by Monday, Feb. 5.

Mr. Cochran is best known for representing high-profile clients Michael Jackson, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Lou Rawls, Geronimo Pratt, Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson, among others. He also represented Reginald Denny, a white truck driver assaulted by blacks during the disturbances in South Central Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict in 1992. He currently represents the mother of the late Providence police officer Cornel Young Jr., shot to death by fellow officers in 1999.

Less known are his philanthropic activities, including the Johnnie L. Cochran Sr. scholarship at UCLA for African-American men. He also established the Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Center for Early Learning at Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, where he has been a member for more than 40 years. The Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Art Fund to support African-American visual artists was created in 1997.

Mr. Cochran, a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles and the Loyola Marymount University School of Law, went into private practice in 1966 after three years as a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles. He served as the third deputy assistant in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office from 1977-80.

In his first case after returning to private practice in 1981, he negotiated a record $760,000 settlement for a jail death in California. In 1992, he obtained a $9.4 million judgment from a Superior Court jury, the highest ever awarded in a Los Angeles police misconduct case.

Mr. Cochran has taught at the UCLA School of Law and the Loyola School of Law and lectured at the Harvard Law School. He has served on several philanthropic boards and received numerous awards from civic, legal and civil rights organizations, including the NAACP.

Mr. Cochran is as well known as many of his famous clients. He hosted Johnnie Cochran Tonight on Court TV and appeared in many other TV shows and movies. He also has been featured in numerous magazines, including Forbes and Smart Money. His autobiography, Journey to Justice, was a best-seller in 1996. He was cited by the National Law Journal last year as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States.

President Vest and Provost Robert A. Brown will also speak at the breakfast. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Awards will be presented to a faculty member or administrator, an alumnus or alumna, and a student or student group.

The celebration also includes arts and musical events. Thirty MIT and Wellesley atudents in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. IAP Design Seminar will construct an installation which reflects themes suggested by Mr. Cochran's accomplishments, as well as their thoughts on civil and human rights, justice, equality, race, racism and the principles of Dr. King. The installation may be viewed in Lobby 10 from February 7-11. On Friday, Feb. 9 at 5:30pm, a free performance of jazz and gospel music and dance will take place in Kresge Auditorium.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 10, 2001.

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