Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nationally influential trial lawyer Jock Smith, law partner of late Johnnie Cochran dies at 63

Tuskegee lawyer Jock Smith, who was law partners with the late Johnnie Cochran, is being remembered as someone who won big verdicts for poor clients. He died Sunday at 63.

Law partner Sam Cherry said Smith had an apparent heart attack at his Montgomery home. He said Smith had complained about feeling bad after returning home from a trip and died quietly while watching TV.

Smith won what the National Law Journal called America's largest civil verdict in 2004, a $1.6 billion judgment against Southwestern Life Insurance and one of its agents. The suit was later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount for a mother of three who claimed she paid the agent thousands of dollars for an insurance policy that didn't exist.

Smith also was one of the attorneys who got a $700 million settlement with Monsanto, Pharmacia and Solutia in 2003 for Anniston residents affected by pollution from a plant manufacturing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, adjacent to a low-income neighborhood.

"Jock was a lawyer who had a passion for representing people he called 'the least of these,'" Cherry said Monday.

District Attorney Michael Jackson of Selma says Smith was one of the best lawyers he's seen in court and he had a way with juries.

District Attorney Michael Jackson of Selma said Smith's eloquent style made him a force in the courtroom. "He had a way with juries," Jackson said.

Smith grew up in New York, where his late father, Jacob Smith, was a lawyer. He came to Alabama to attend Tuskegee University. After graduating in 1970, he earned his law degree from the University of Notre Dame. He spent a year in New York and then returned to Alabama in 1974 to work in the state attorney general's office for three years. He left in 1977 to open his law practice in Tuskegee, 30 miles east of Montgomery.

He did both civil and criminal work, but built his reputation as a plaintiff lawyer. He gained a national reputation in 2000 when he won an $80 million against Orkin for an elderly woman who claimed her home was destroyed by termites. He soon began appearing on national lists of the top plaintiff lawyers. He became friends with Cochran when he visited Montgomery in 1996 and later became a partner and eventually president of Cochran Firm, the national law practice that Cochran built after helping gain the acquittal of O.J. Simpson on murder charges.

More recently, Smith represented two of the children of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a dispute over their mother's papers, and he served as a trustee of Tuskegee University. At the time of his death, he was planning a trip to Miami to be honored by The Trial Lawyer magazine as one of its 100 Most Influential Trial Lawyers in America.

Tuskegee President Gilbert Rochon said Smith "was a strong advocate for the oppressed, the abused and the impoverished locally, nationally and globally. His legacy will continue to inspire future generations of students."

Survivors include his wife, Yvette Smiley-Smith, and a daughter, Janay Smith.

Funeral arrangements will be announced by Ross-Clayton Funeral Home in Montgomery.

By Phillip Rawls, The Associated Press

Source: The Republic

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