O. J. Simpson's lead attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., took time out from "the trial of the century" to talk yesterday with other lawyers convening in Baltimore.
He criticized as "moral, social and economic genocide for our people" what he parodied as the Republicans' 'Contract on America,' " and a California trend toward altering jury structures. He said the use of television cameras in the courtroom is appropriate in the Simpson case, but not necessarily in all cases.
And he expressed fear of racial polarization occurring in the United States and told of difficulties facing black youth, such as poverty and inadequate educational and career opportunities. "It's very discouraging, and that's why we have to come together for them," he said.
But his message as an honoree of the National Bar Association, which represents some 30,000 African-American lawyers in the United States, wasn't what was most important for many of those in attendance. They were more impressed with the man than with his message.
"It was inspiring and exciting to see the guy you see on TV everyday, right in front of you," said Mary Bulls, an attorney from Atlanta, Ga. "I expected him to be all Hollywood-like, with his lavender suits and colored glasses, but he came across as being a pretty down-to-earth and warm human being."
Mr. Cochran addressed about 500 lawyers from across the country on the state of criminal law in the United States, as part of the National Bar Association's 70th annual convention at the Hyatt Regency hotel.
He is this year's recipient of the R. Kenneth Mundy criminal law award for his 30-year legal career. Mr. Mundy, the flamboyant attorney who defended Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. against cocaine and perjury charges five years ago, died in April.
Columbia attorney Jerome Ware said he planted himself in a front row seat at 12:30 p.m. -- for the 3 p.m. speech -- to see his hero up close. "He's extremely capable and he's extremely smooth. . . . It all shows on his courtroom persona on TV and even here in person," Mr. Ware said. "He's not caught up in lots of politics and glitz. He's represented people who are no-O. J.'s and O. J.'s."
Richard Wilson, a Washington attorney, said: "When someone of his caliber, in the middle of what he's doing, takes time to fly several thousand miles, it shows the rest of us that there is enough time for anyone to take time to make an impact on others."