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Rocketta
Sep 28th, 2004, 10:26 PM
Court to Decide Johnnie Cochran Protester Case

Tue Sep 28, 1:41 PM ET
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court (news (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://news.search.yahoo.com/search/news?fr=news-storylinks&p=%22U.S.%20Supreme%20Court%22&c=&n=20&yn=c&c=news&cs=nw) - web sites (http://us.rd.yahoo.com/DailyNews/manual/*http://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=web-storylinks&p=U.S.%20Supreme%20Court)) said on Tuesday that it would decide whether barring a dissatisfied former client of high-profile attorney Johnnie Cochran from picketing at his law firm or making any statements about him violated the man's constitutional free-speech rights.



The high court agreed to hear an appeal by Ulysses Tory, who had hired Cochran to represent him in a civil rights lawsuit in the early 1980s. This was before Cochran became famous for his successful defense in the 1995 murder trial of former football star and actor O.J. Simpson.



Tory became dissatisfied with Cochran's services and began picketing with others in the late 1990s outside Cochran's law office in Los Angeles and outside the Superior Court building.



Tory criticized how Cochran handled his case and questioned his abilities as an attorney. The placards included the following statement: "You've been a BAD BAD boy, Johnnie L. Cochran." Another one stated, "Johnnie is a crook, a liar and a Thief. Can a lawyer go to HEAVEN? Luke 11:46."



Cochran sued for libel in 2000. Tory represented himself at trial and asserted his free-speech rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.



A Superior Court judge ruled for Cochran, but did not award any money damages.



The judge instead issued a permanent injunction in 2002 that barred Tory from the picketing and from displaying signs, placards or other written or printed material about Cochran and his law firm.



The injunction also barred Tory from "orally uttering statements about Cochran and/or Cochran's law firm." Although Tory's wife, Ruth Craft, was not named in the lawsuit, the injunction also covered her too.



Tory and Craft appealed and argued the injunction was too broad and a restraint in advance on future speech that violated their rights. A California appeals court upheld the injunction.



Duke University law professor Erwin Chemerinsky represented Tory and Craft in appealing to the Supreme Court.



He said Cochran was an admitted public figure, and urged the justices to decide the significant question concerning when a court order preventing speech was impermissibly broad.



The justices will hear arguments in the case early next year, with a decision due by the end of June.