Vinson: Ever Heard of Earl Rogers?

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"The People vs. O.J Simpson: American Crime Story," the highly-rated television mini-series (FX channel) has, inadvertently, fused together trendy pop culture with high-profile legal names, from booty queen/TV reality star Kim Kardashian to Attorney F. Lee Bailey ... literally!

As most know, football great O.J. Simpson, Heisman Trophy winner and record-setting, All-Pro running back, was accused of killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, aspiring actor Ronald Goldman, in June 1994, in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. During the course of what many call "The Trial of the Century," Simpson's eclectic array of attorneys, dubbed "The Dream Team," included, among others:

*Attorney F. Lee Bailey: Best known for representing Dr. Sam Sheppard, who served 10 years in prison for allegedly killing his wife in 1954. Bailey's cagey defense resulted in Sheppard's release on bond from prison in 1964, and subsequent acquittal by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966.

*Attorney Johnnie Cochran (deceased): Best known for deftly negotiating a huge civil suit settlement for King of Pop Michael Jackson, accused of child molestation, in 1993. Jackson did not serve any time.

*Attorney Robert Shapiro: A hard-charging, "go-to" attorney for celebrities in trouble.

*Attorney Robert Kardashian (deceased): More a successful businessman than a defense attorney, Kardashian ended up on Simpson's defense team, simply, because he and Simpson were best friends. And, yes, Robert Kardashian is the ex-husband of Kris Kardashian and, also, the father of Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, and Rob Kardashian, of "Keeping up With the Kardashians" television reality show.

Though O.J. Simpson was acquitted in October 1995 of the Brown and Goldman murders, he now is serving a lengthy prison sentence for an unrelated strong-armed robbery conviction.

However, around the turn of the 20th Century, 1900, if you were in big trouble and had big money, the catchphrase was, "Get me Earl Rogers!"

As records indicate, Earl Rogers was admitted to the bar and opened an office in Los Angeles, CA, around 1897. Fashionable, charming, and brilliant, Attorney Rogers quickly garnered both praise and loathing in the legal community. In particular, he was known to use unorthodox, somewhat quirky tactics in defending his clients.

For example: Defending a male client for shooting to death a man, Rogers had the dead man's intestines, housed inside a jar, brought to court to show the trajectory of the death slug, in an effort to prove self-defense. The client was acquitted.

Another time: "Rogers got another client off after he had his assistant dress just like the accused. While the key witness was not looking, he had the assistant switch places with the client at the counsel table. Rogers then asked the witness to point out the perpetrator numerous times; each time the witness pointed to the assistant. The jury agreed with Rogers that the witness's identification was unreliable and returned a not guilty verdict" (Source: "Tennessee Bar Journal," March 2016 edition).

However, it was when Rogers defended renowned attorney Clarence Darrow--himself, considered one of the more superlative legal minds in the history of jurisprudence--that Rogers became known as "the trial lawyer's trial lawyer." Before going further, though, allow me to veer off the path a bit and correlate with this story an indispensable piece of Tennessee history.

In 1925, Attorney Darrow defended John T. Scopes in what became known as the "Scopes Monkey Trial." The trial took place in Dayton, Tennessee, and pitted Darrow against another legal eagle, William Jennings Bryan as special prosecutor. John Scopes, a science teacher in Dayton, had been charged with teaching "evolution," which was illegal in Tennessee. Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.00. What the case boiled down to was: Did God create man...or rather, did man evolve via ape? Though Darrow technically lost the case, he widened the doorway for a more liberal mindset and Freedom of Speech. The Scopes Monkey Trial, also, was called "The Trial of the Century."

Back to Attorney Earl Rogers defending Attorney Clarence Darrow: In 1912 Clarence Darrow was indicted for attempted jury bribery in Los Angeles. The case stemmed from Darrow's defense of the McNamara brothers. Labor leaders who were indicted in the 1910 dynamiting of the "Los Angeles Times/LAT" building, in which 21 non-union "LAT" employees were killed. Since the "LAT" was recognized as one of the most rabid anti-labor newspapers in the country, it was highly suspected organized labor was behind the bombing.

Expectedly, Rogers and Darrow butted heads throughout the three-month trial regarding defense strategy. Rogers' primary defense was that Darrow was "too shrewd" to be a willing participant in such a nefarious act. Ultimately, Darrow was acquitted. Again, this was referred to as "The Trial of the Century."

Sadly enough, the higher he rose in the legal profession, the lower he sank, personally. February 22, 1922, at age 52, Attorney Earl Rogers was found dead in a run-down hotel. Reportedly, a life of alcoholism was the reason for his premature demise.

While some attorneys argue that Earl Rogers was the best criminal defense litigator of the 20th Century, a surprising number of attorneys never have heard of him.

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Mike Vinson
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