By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Upon receiving the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession’s Award for Global Leadership two years ago during a celebration of the history of Black Lawyers, acclaimed attorney Vernon E. Jordan Jr. spoke fervently about how he once sat in a courtroom and watched in awe of other legal giants.
Robert Carter, Julius Coleman and Thurgood Marshall were among the names Jordan rattled off. Some would argue that the list could have also included Joey Jackson, of Watford Jackson, PLLC in New York.
A nationally-recognized criminal defense attorney, Jackson has gained notoriety as perhaps the most respected legal analyst on television where he provides insight on legal matters for HLN and CNN.
It’s a career that almost didn’t happen because Jackson told NNPA Newswire that he had little desire to become an attorney and even less interest in television. “My mom insisted I go to college and really guided me in that direction … thank goodness,” he said. “Once there, I learned a whole lot about myself and my tolerance for work and how to be disciplined enough to complete a task.”
He graduated Hofstra Law School in 1995 and worked for the New York State Assembly Speaker as a legislative analyst, the New York State Education Department and Congressman Charles B. Rangel’s office in Washington.
Later, he taught business and Civil Rights Law at Monroe College.
At Watford Jackson, where his focus is two federal districts and the Supreme Court, Jackson works on cases that include the criminal defense, regulatory enforcement, government investigations, labor union arbitration and complex litigation practice areas.
“What inspires me is the ability to make a difference in people’s lives,” Jackson said. “Winning a case often gives someone a new life because it protects their freedom and gives them a more favorable view of the justice system.”
He gave a profound nod to the late Johnnie Cochran, the famed lawyer who successfully defended O.J. Simpson during “The Trial of the Century.”
“[Cochran] died about 13 years ago, yet his name comes up in legal circles regularly as a person who stood for justice, would go to the end of the earth for his clients, and never took no for an answer,” Jackson said of Cochran.
“In his eyes, no case was impossible to win – and that’s how he lived and the example he set. ‘Look for the opportunities and the possibilities,’” he said, adding, “Let’s face it, O.J. was guilty.”
As well-liked and respected as he is on television, Jackson said becoming a legal analyst happened by accident. “I received a phone call from the Fox News Channel out of the blue about 10 years ago. They were looking for someone to comment on a criminal case,” Jackson recalled.
“I had no clue what they were talking about or asking of me since I was not connected to the case. I nearly talked my way out of a television career by asking them why someone unconnected to the case would speak about it.”
“The caller explained that they customarily have legal panels and debates about cases and that they researched my background and thought I would be a good candidate.”
Jackson provided commentary for Fox News for nearly 5 years, without compensation but other networks realized his talent and wealth of knowledge. Jackson was offered a contract with Court TV’s “In Session,” which eventually led to a deal with HLN and later CNN where he’s often called upon for celebrity cases.
“If reality TV teaches us anything, it is that people love soap operas. People enjoy learning that celebrities are as imperfect as the rest of us are,” Jackson said.
“They enjoy even more knowing that the long arm of justice can wrap its arms around even those we believe to be so larger as to be larger than life itself.
“We think of celebrities as being rich people with perfect lives, who are untouchable. Following their cases shows us that this is far from true.”
“And let’s not forget that sometimes the magnitude of the crime itself makes the person a celebrity – Jodi Arias, Casie Anthony, George Zimmerman.
“We can relate to the stories and drama that unfolds as we all weigh in as jurors, putting in our 3 cents and expressing our point of view.”
Once a prosecutor, Jackson said as a defense attorney he prepares his clients by “being the agent of reality.”
“I am a cheerleader, a booster, a supporter, and a soldier – but I am also a realist, and always try to be straightforward with a client regarding their chances or prevailing,” he said.
In describing some of his tougher cases, Jackson recalled that, as a prosecutor, he was once put in charge of prosecuting a football player who had just signed a multi-million dollar deal and was in New York celebrating at the China Club.
“He ended up beating up the victim pretty bad because the victim was trying to talk to his girlfriend. I could not downgrade the charges because the victim was hospitalized and beaten pretty badly,” Jackson said.
“His defense attorney was an experienced veteran from a major firm, who belittled me, shamed me, and tried to get into my head at every turn. I wasn’t being unreasonable, just thought he had to be held accountable. We went to trial and he was convicted,” Jackson said.
As a defense attorney, Jackson described one oddly adjudicated case where his client was being prosecuted in two jurisdictions for various crimes, including attempted murder.
“The prosecutor reached a global plea deal, meaning they got approval from the other county to resolve his case with a plea in the jurisdiction we were in. It was a sweet deal. Five years to cover three violent felony cases (the others were armed robbery with violent assault).
“My client could not make up his mind as to whether he wanted to go to trial or take the deal. I implored him to take the deal, but he said he wasn’t sure. I am very sensitive to a client who doesn’t want a deal because I never want to give the impression that I am forcing him to do so.
“I asked the judge for more time and the judge gave my client until after the lunch recess to take the deal or go to trial. I spent the entire lunch speaking with my client and his family.
“He finally said it made sense and he would take the deal.
“When we came back after lunch, the prosecutor doubled the offer and said he wanted ten years unless my client told on his associates.
“A two-hour lunch would cost my client 5 more years. He took the deal. The judge scolded the prosecutor for being so dishonorable but it was to no avail. My client got the 10 years anyway (he was facing 25)… I felt miserable.”
With heightened awareness of sexual harassment and assaults, Jackson applauded the #MeToo movement, but also offered caution. “The #MeToo movement and #TimesUp are important in allowing women to express themselves without shame or fear of reprisals,” he said. “It’s high-time that women are able to tell their stories – without being denigrated, disbelieved, ridiculed and belittled, so kudos to the movement.”
“That said, it’s perfectly appropriate to challenge evidence, scrutinize every situation thoroughly, and evaluate every case on a case-by-case basis,” Jackson said. “That’s what our judicial system is all about, and will continue to be about.”
Jackson called it a privilege to work in law and to educate television viewers.
“My regret is that I cannot help everyone who reaches out, but we do the best to provide as much assistance as we can,” he said.
To that end, Jackson named three of what he called the most important things he’d want everyone to know about him.
“That I try to face life with optimism and energy by seeing the good over the bad; that I try to treat all people with dignity and respect no matter their station; and that I try to wake up every day, and leave no stone unturned in trying to make an impact in whatever I do,” Jackson said.