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By Andrea Peyser
February 5, 2016
Johnnie Cochran got away with it.
The late lawyer warped the United States criminal justice system in a successful quest to free the rich, famous — and, I believe, guilty as Osama bin Laden — accused double-murderer O.J. Simpson.
Then Cochran sued The Post, and me, for the crazy sum of $10 million.
It was 1997, more than two years after blind, deaf and dumb Los Angeles jurors declared the beloved former football great Orenthal James Simpson innocent. The Juice was accused in 1994 of nearly decapitating with a knife his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson — the mother of two of his children — and stabbing her actor-waiter friend, Ronald Goldman, so many times, the overkill continued even after he was dead.
As lead attorney of O.J.’s amoral “Dream Team,’’ Cochran essentially put the entire L.A. Police Department on trial for racism. The cynical court strategy freed an African-American hero, a guy who married white, played golf with white guys, reinvented himself as a sports commentator, movie star and TV pitchman, and never gave back, financially or socially, to the black community from which he had escaped.
“Well, I’m not black!’’ O.J. (Cuba Gooding Jr.) cries out in the riveting, and emotionally draining, new TV series, “The People v. O.J. Simpson.’’ “I’m. O.J.’’
I was reminded of my bizarre cameo in this real-life drama while watching the first six episodes of the 10-part series, which premiered Tuesday on FX, with Cochran artfully played by Courtney B. Vance.
The pain flooded back.
There was the wild white Ford Bronco freeway chase, with O.J. in the back seat holding a gun to his head. There’s the giddy fame-whoredom of then-Superior Court Judge Lance Ito (Kevin Choi).
Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson) lost the jury from Day One with her bitchy demeanor and tightly curled hair. In a scene that may or may not really have happened, a grocery cashier spies Clark buying a large box of Tampax and snarks, “Uh-oh! I guess the defense is in for a hell of a week, huh?’’
It all ended after prosecutor Christopher Darden (played by Sterling K. Brown) stupidly agreed to Cochran’s challenge and have O.J. try on bloody gloves, in open court, that he supposedly wore while committing the crimes. O.J. struggled to put them on over the latex gloves already on his hands.
“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,’’ Cochran chanted to jurors. It didn’t. They did.
The shocking verdict didn’t surprise me a bit.
After the trial, the victorious Cochran was determined to shut me up. He got royally peeved by a passage in a column in which I bemoaned his entry into the legal team suing New York City government on behalf of police sodomy victim Abner Louima.
“Cochran has yet to speak up,’’ I wrote. “But history reveals that he will say or do just about anything to win, typically at the expense of the truth.’’
Hey — another scribe called him a “thug’’ and didn’t get sued!
“I’m a thick-skinned guy who is basically not bothered by writers who I perceive have an agenda,” Cochran told the Los Angeles Times. “But you draw the line generally as a lawyer when somebody writes an article saying that you have made a history of lying in court.”
An LA federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 1998, ruling that the column expressed my constitutionally protected opinion.
Cochran appealed the ruling.
I got pregnant, gave birth to my daughter, and enrolled in Mommy & Me classes before an appeals court panel finally tossed the suit in 2000, dashing visions of my heirs being forced to labor into the 22nd century to pay off my legal debt.
But make no mistake, Cochran won. His tactic of intimidation undoubtedly discouraged reporters from printing or broadcasting the truth as we see it.
Cochran died of a brain tumor in 2005.
O.J. was found liable in a civil trial for the killings and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families of his ex-wife and Goldman, most of which he hasn’t paid. He’s now serving a 33-year sentence in a Nevada prison after being convicted of taking part in a 2007 gunpoint robbery in Las Vegas.
Louima settled with the City of New York and its police union for a total of $8.75 million in 2001.
The O.J. trial was never really about race. It was a cautionary tale about the way money and fame poisons everything they touch. I would like to think that the world has recovered from The People vs. O.J. Simpson.
The next time a guilty celebrity rides off in a white Bronco, I’ll let you know.