After practicing law for more than 30 years, you'd think Johnnie Cochran would have seen it all by now.
Yet even the famed Los Angeles lawyer was impressed with the way Montgomery County officials speedily agreed to a $2 million settlement with the family of a Wheaton man who was accidentally killed by a police officer in the spring.
Though Cochran became a celebrity as part of O.J. Simpson's defense team, he has been handling civil rights cases in California for more than 30 years. In the spring, he arrived in Montgomery as part of the litigation team representing the family of Junious Roberts.
"The officials in Montgomery County were extraordinary," he said, praising in particular County Council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large), County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr. "I handle a lot of these cases around the country, and they did step up to the plate and indicate a willingness to try to put this matter behind the county and to make some changes."
William H. Murphy, who along with lawyer Walter Blair rounded out the team in the Roberts case, called the official response a "unique" aspect of this police brutality suit.
"Time and again when you have brutality cases in municipalities, counties and states, there is hostility from local and state governments about the whole notion that brutality exists," Murphy said. "Montgomery County had an exceptionally different response."
County officials, who already had been reeling from years of allegations of racism against county police officers, agreed this month to the settlement before the Roberts case even got to court. Under the agreement, $667,000 of that amount will go to pay the three lawyers, with an additional $25,000 kicked in for their expenses.
The county also agreed to spend an additional $1 million to promote "better gender and racial harmony and respect" between the police department and the public, including funds for installing video cameras on patrol cars, sensitivity training and minority recruitment.
Center of the Universe
The gang was all there: county executives, county commissioners, legislators, governor's staff and, of course, the lobbyists--who are attracted to all those politicians and policymakers like teenage girls flock to the Backstreet Boys.
In all, more than 850 of them gathered at the Ocean City Convention Center 10 days ago for a combination convention, trade show and major schmooze session of the Maryland Association of Counties.
"For a few days in . . . August, this is the political center of the universe in Maryland," said Michael Morrill, spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who, yep, was there, too. In fact, for the 25th year. Glendening was twice the organization's president when he was Prince George's County executive.
He loves these sorts of organizations--he's just been elected vice chairman of the National Governors Association and is in line to become chairman next year. And Maryland's on a roll in such things: Last month, Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray (D-East Columbia) was elected president of the National Association of Counties and was feted at a party at the convention center.
As governor, Glendening makes the keynote speech at the Ocean City convention. This year, he told the crowd that the state would give them more flexibility with education aid to encourage renovation of existing schools.
Staff writer Angela Paik contributed to this column.