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Star-Telegram | 05/06/2003 | Cochran warns civil liberties are eroding

In Uncategorized on March 30, 2005 at 3:14 pm

Star-Telegram | 05/06/2003 | Cochran warns civil liberties are eroding

By Max B. Baker

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

STAR-TELEGRAM/RON T. ENNIS

Johnnie Cochran visits some of the winners of the Law Day art contest at Clifford Davis Elementary School in Fort Worth on Monday. The winners include, from left, Ruth Sillas, Tionne White and Frederick Kilongozi.

Johnnie Cochran warned lawyers Monday that many of Americans’ basic civil liberties are being stripped away as the federal government wages its often secret war against terrorism.

The famed criminal defense lawyer specifically attacked passage of the Patriot Act by Congress. He was speaking during a luncheon sponsored by the Tarrant County Black Bar Association as part of its first Law Day celebration.

“We don’t want to win the war and lose all our rights,” Cochran said during an interview. “It doesn’t avail us much when all our civil rights have been snatched away in the interest of national security.”

Spurred by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare that soon followed, Congress passed — with little public input — the Patriot Act, a law that makes it easier for police to eavesdrop on phone calls, seize voice messages and obtain confidential records.

“I don’t recall any time giving up civil rights and getting them back,” he said.

Cochran burst onto the national scene in 1994 as part of the legal team assembled to defend former football star O.J. Simpson, who had been charged with killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Since then, Cochran’s had a nationally syndicated television show on the Court TV cable channel and wrote a bestselling memoir, A Lawyer’s Life.

This month, Cochran was named among the 100 most influential minorities in sports for criticizing the National Football League’s head coach hiring practices. Now, most teams interview one minority for each job.

Cochran met earlier Monday with Clifford Davis Elementary School students and told them that “service is the price you pay for the space you occupy.”

At a small reception at a downtown hotel, he had his picture taken with Antonio Brame, a 12-year-old Mansfield student who portrayed Cochran in a mock trial. Brame said he wants to attend Harvard University Law School.

“I like to talk a lot when making my point,” Brame said.

Stealing a line from the play Inherit the Wind, about the 1925 Scopes evolution trial, Cochran told about 200 people at the Law Day luncheon that he has always tried “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

While much has been done to advance civil rights, Cochran said the hard-fought victories of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as a civil rights lawyer slowly are being whittled away by the federal government.

The passage of the Patriot Act gives the government more latitude to monitor faxes and e-mails, Cochran said. They can more easily monitor what library books you read without you knowing it, he said.

He said the government even used the Patriot Act to tape New York attorney Lynne Stewart’s conversations with her client, Egyptian Sheik Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Stewart, who also represented Wadih el Hage, an Arlington resident sentenced to life in prison for the same bombing, has since been indicted for helping the imprisoned terrorist operate from his prison cell.

Cochran implored the lawyers and leaders at the luncheon to speak out against such monitoring by the government. He said they should not allow anyone to question their patriotism because they voiced those concerns.

“We have to have the courage to stand up and start speaking out and questioning these things,” Cochran said. “The way to get good laws is to have a debate about them.”

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