Roger Cossack on the most exciting legal moment of his life –
“I had my voice, and I had my moment. I lost six to three. Nevertheless, it was . . . my one and only time before the United States Supreme Court, but it was probably the most exciting legal moment of my life. My mother was there, and my son was there and my wife was there.”
A Ockershausen: This is Our Town. This is Andy Ockershausen, and we’re talking and going to talk to Roger Cossack, the 1999 Vanity Fair one of the movers and shakers of Washington radio, TV and broadcast. 1999, do you remember that year, Rog?
Roger Cossack: I was going to say that must be another Roger Cossack.
A Ockershausen: Vanity Fair of all mag. What happened to Broadcasting and USA Today and so forth?
Roger Cossack: No, they never recognized me.
A Ockershausen: Sports Illustrated. Roger, tell us now. You are from the West Coast. You’re a West Coast guy, but you grace our town and have for many years, and we have really appreciated it. Tell me about your early life on the coast, LA.
Roger Cossack: Well, I went to UCLA undergraduate and UCLA law school.
A Ockershausen: Where’d you go to school? I mean, to grammar school.
Cheremoya Avenue Grammar, Hollywood High and Ricky Nelson
Roger Cossack: I went to Cheremoya Avenue Grammar School, but probably the most notable place I went was, I went to Hollywood High School.
A Ockershausen: Hollywood High.
Roger Cossack: I went to Hollywood High School, and my claim to fame is, is that I sat next to Ricky Nelson. We both sat on the bench for the football team, and neither one of us played too much.
A Ockershausen: What a famous, famous, fabulous high school, though. Hollywood High.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, it was-
A Ockershausen: Was it on Sunset?
Roger Cossack: It is on Highland Avenue between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevard. It was a great time to go to Hollywood High School.
A Ockershausen: Oh my God, yeah.
Roger Cossack: It was a fun time to go.
A Ockershausen: Celebrity school, right?
Roger Cossack: Well, yeah. There were a lot of celebrities who went there. I’m trying to think of some of them. I think, as I told you, Ricky Nelson, but I can’t remember any of them now, now but there were some. There were always, you know, pretty girls who were leaving to go be in the movies. That’s the way our-
A Ockershausen: A lot of friends of mine from ABC Television who lived on the West Coast, their kids went to Hollywood High when they were coming up in the business. It was so important that they get that LA feeling. Why would you then go to school, you went down the road to UCLA?
UCLA Undergrad and Law School
Roger Cossack: Well, UCLA it was a very good reason, Andy.
A Ockershausen: Did your family live down there?
Roger Cossack: Well, my family lived in Los Angeles, but-
A Ockershausen: West Los Angeles?
Roger Cossack: Not so much. We lived in Hollywood, and the reason that I went to UCLA is because, it was a very good reason, was that UCLA, it was and is a public university, and that was where I could afford to go to school. It was inexpensive and it-
A Ockershausen: One of the most gorgeous campuses in the free world.
Roger Cossack: It’s a beautiful place. It was a great opportunity for me to be able to go there. It was very inexpensive, and get a great education. In fact, I loved it so much I stayed six years. There was a couple of little-
A Ockershausen: That’s irregular.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, a couple of little interruptions-
A Ockershausen: Roger.
Roger Cossack: Which we won’t go into, but nevertheless I stayed six years. Then, the UCLA law school let me in and I was able to get a legal education at UCLA law school.
A Ockershausen: Did Ricky go with? No, he went into showbiz.
Roger Cossack: No, Ricky went on to bigger and better things.
A Ockershausen: His children became huge stars, correct? His twin boys I think?
Roger Cossack: I’m not-
A Ockershausen: Were huge stars.
Roger Cossack: I’m not sure.
A Ockershausen: They had that Ricky Nelson background. He knows, JJ knows. Roger, and then you decided to follow the law? Was that the family trade? Was your dad a lawyer? What did your dad, showbiz?
Mom and Dad – Education Was Key
Roger Cossack: No, no, no. My dad was a secondhand furniture dealer, and my mother worked in the store.
A Ockershausen: She probably kept the book.
Roger Cossack: I was the first person in my family to get a college education. I think perhaps the first person to graduate high school, because you know, my parents were children of the Depression. In those days you went to work.
A Ockershausen: You had to go to work to live.
Roger Cossack: That’s right. I was the first one. My mother was, I remember, was very, very serious about me getting an education and pushed it and made sure. For someone like me, UCLA was an incredible opportunity.
A Ockershausen: Oh, what an opportunity.
Roger Cossack: Because I couldn’t have gone to a private school. We just didn’t have it.
A Ockershausen: Couldn’t afford it. You were there in the glory years of UCLA athletics, particularly in basketball, correct?
Roger Cossack: That’s right.
UCLA Basketball and Pauley Coliseum
A Ockershausen: Was John Wooden still there?
Roger Cossack: Oh, yeah. John Wooden was there, and I was able to see-
A Ockershausen: Kareem.
Roger Cossack: Kareem, and of course-
A Ockershausen: Lew Alcindor.
Roger Cossack: Lew Alcindor when he was there, and of course later on, I was already graduated, but Bill Walton played, and UCLA won that national basketball championship 10 out of 11 years.
A Ockershausen: Incredible streak.
Roger Cossack: It wasn’t such a big deal as it is today. We used to think of it as our own private little tournament out there. What’s going to happen? Oh, UCLA is going to play in that tournament that we always win.
A Ockershausen: Was Pauley Pavilion built when you were there?
Roger Cossack: It just was built.
A Ockershausen: New.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, it was new, when I was-
A Ockershausen: It was state of the art.
Roger Cossack: When I was an undergraduate, they used to go downtown and play at the sports arena, and then later on, I think when I was in law school, they finished Pauley Pavilion.
A Ockershausen: That is a great venue. I read something somewhere about, it’s getting old, getting age on it, and they thought about doing something.
Roger Cossack: They just remodeled it.
A Ockershausen: Is that it?
Roger Cossack: They did remodel it a couple years ago, and they sort of brought it up to date, but it’s always going to be Pauley for us.
A Ockershausen: Fabulous. Fabulous place, and then UCLA’s had its football years, too. I don’t want to get bogged down on UCLA, but for some reason I followed it over the years, and we had a guy named Gary Beban was the number one draft choice of the Washington Redskins, believe it or not.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, he won-
A Ockershausen: That’s when I got the word.
Roger Cossack: When Gary was there one year, he won the Heisman Trophy, and-
A Ockershausen: Is that right?
Roger Cossack: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: Gary? I did not know that, but great. Well, Tim Brant, who you know.
Roger Cossack: Right.
A Ockershausen: Who you work with, right here at WMAL, his son.
Roger Cossack: His son. His son played for UCLA.
A Ockershausen: He was a cornerback for UCLA, Kevin.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
A Ockershausen: So we do have a tie-in. My tie-in with Tim and you, and UCLA is so great, and they had a tough time last weekend with Stanford, but that’s another story.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, I don’t want to go into that. Too painful.
A Ockershausen: So, you followed the law and became an attorney, and then you worked for the state, or the city?
LA Deputy District Attoney and UCLA Law School Faculty
Roger Cossack: I went to work for the District Attorney’s office when I got out of law school, and I worked for them.
A Ockershausen: Were you a paralegal? Were you actually a practicing attorney?
Roger Cossack: No, I was a deputy DA. I was. I passed the bar and they hired me as a deputy district attorney and I stayed with them for three years. I liked criminal law. I thought that was the thing I wanted to do, and I thought a great-
A Ockershausen: You were a prosecutor.
Roger Cossack: I was a prosecutor and I thought that was a great way to kind of learn the trade, and it was.
A Ockershausen: In LA, for the area?
Roger Cossack: I stayed in LA.
A Ockershausen: Or the county?
Roger Cossack: No, LA County DA’s Office, and so you went around to different parts of the county, and then eventually they assigned you to a certain place, and I stayed, and I learned what was going on. Then, after about three years, I thought I heard the call of academia and I went and joined the faculty at UCLA law school.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
Roger Cossack: And I stuck around there for a couple of years, and I realized that academia, while it’s certainly a noble thing to do, probably wasn’t for me. After two years at the law school, I decided I’d go into private practice. Now, I don’t know what I was thinking about. I mean, I think this is the, you know, the craziness of youth. I went down into Westwood, which is where UCLA is.
A Ockershausen: Gorgeous.
Private Practice – Criminal Defense Lawyer
Roger Cossack: The little village down there. I rented an office, told everybody I was in practice, set out some announcements and sat behind my desk, and thought, you know, this is the way it’s supposed to work.
A Ockershausen: That’s the way it is in the movies.
Roger Cossack: And you know, honest to goodness, from the day I opened up, I had clients. I don’t know where they came from. I don’t know what they had in mind hiring me, but I had clients.
A Ockershausen: Were you a specialist? Did you specialize?
Roger Cossack: Yeah, I did criminal defense.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I see.
Roger Cossack: In those days Andy, in California, I suppose every place else, you know it was a time when smoking marijuana was very illegal, and young people went to jail for that. So, I had my office full because the kids knew me. The students knew me from law school, from undergraduate, and I’d been around for a while.
A Ockershausen: You had an image.
Roger Cossack: I would have parents with these poor young kids who got caught with one or two marijuana cigarettes and were looking at going to jail, so I had clients. I started little by little to build a reputation.
A Ockershausen: As a good defender.
Roger Cossack: As a person you could come to, hopefully, and do a good job, and I built a practice. After a while, I decided that really where I wanted to be was not so much in the state courts, but in the federal courts. I wanted to do a federal criminal defense practice, so I little by little began to build myself up, and built up a practice.
A Ockershausen: Was that a different bar you had to pass, or was it the same?
Roger Cossack: No, it’s the same bar, but it’s a different jurisdiction. Federal court was where the bigger cases were. It was-
A Ockershausen: Uncle Sam.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, Uncle Sam. They would announce the case. They would say, “The United States of America versus Joe Johnson,” and somebody would stand up and say, “Here I am for the United States of America.” Here I would get up and say, “Roger Cossack for Joe Johnson,” and I would be thinking to myself, bring on the United States of America, and bring on Puerto Rico while you’re at it. You know, I’ll take you all on.
A Ockershausen: Roger, that’s great. You’re the eminent attorney. A Washington native named Edward Bennett Williams told me a story.
Roger Cossack: Oh, a great attorney. A great attorney.
A Ockershausen: But Ed Williams said, he said, “It’s in spite of all these years I’ve been in the business.” He said, “When I stand up to defend a client, and I hear, the United States of America,” he said, “Even in my doting age here, that was always something important.”
Roger Cossack: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: I’m fighting Uncle Sam.
Roger Cossack: Well, that’s the way I felt about it, and I enjoyed being a criminal defense lawyer. I enjoyed the work. I mean, it’s tough work. It’s serious work.
A Ockershausen: Is that much travel? Did you travel around to the different court rooms?
Roger Cossack: I began to. That’s one of the things that happens in federal court, is that you can go all over the country, and so as I built up my practice and my reputation, I began to get cases in different parts of the country and different states and different jurisdictions. I enjoyed that. You know, I was young. I enjoyed traveling. I enjoyed getting on those airplanes and going to different cities.
A Ockershausen: Were you still living at home?
Roger Cossack: No, I was married.
A Ockershausen: Oh, you got married. We didn’t get to that.
Roger Cossack: Yeah. I got married.
A Ockershausen: A coed from when you were at UCLA.
Roger Cossack: No, this after I got out of UCLA. I met a woman-
A Ockershausen: Naturally.
Roger Cossack: And we got married and we had a son. I have a son who lives in Manassas.
A Ockershausen: He does?
Roger Cossack: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: I never. Roger, of all these years, I never knew that.
Roger Cossack: I have a son and a grandson and a daughter-in-law.
A Ockershausen: They’re right here with you.
Roger Cossack: Right here with me.
A Ockershausen: Did they come here with you?
Roger Cossack: No, they coincidentally came down, came later on, so I’m very happy about that.
A Ockershausen: Oh, my, and live in Manassas. Well, great living.
Roger Cossack: They moved to Manassas.
A Ockershausen: Well, don’t drive out there on a weekend though, because the traffic’s terrible.
Roger Cossack: The only time I visit them is on Sunday afternoons at four o’clock.
A Ockershausen: Roger.
Roger Cossack Appears Before United States Supreme Court, including Justices Rehnquist and Marshall
Roger Cossack: So that was it and I built up that practice, you know, little by little. I came here one time and had the opportunity to argue before the United State Supreme Court.
A Ockershausen: Is that right?
Roger Cossack: Yeah, and did that, in 1984, and argued a case and didn’t win.
A Ockershausen: You had your voice.
Roger Cossack: I had my voice, and I had my moment. I lost six to three. Sounds like a baseball score, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it was-
A Ockershausen: That was only your one and only time before the court.
Roger Cossack: My one and only time before the United States Supreme Court, but it was probably the most exciting-
A Ockershausen: I’ll bet it was.
Roger Cossack: Legal moment of my life. I can remember that, since that time. I’ll tell you who was with. My mother was there, and my son was there and my wife was there. Unfortunately since that time, my wife had passed away and my mother of course had passed away, but they were both there with me.
A Ockershausen: That was great to see you in front of the bench, huh?
Roger Cossack: And it was a great moment for me and for them.
A Ockershausen: Rehnquist. That was the Rehnquist court?
Roger Cossack: You bet. Rehnquist was there, and-
A Ockershausen: The characters. Scalia.
Roger Cossack: No. Scalia wasn’t there yet.
A Ockershausen: Oh, he wasn’t.
Roger Cossack: But the great Thurgood Marshall was there.
A Ockershausen: Oh good, so you got in front of the leaders of the court.
Roger Cossack: I was right there in front of the United States Supreme Court. It was-
A Ockershausen: Great, Roger.
Roger Cossack: Like I say, you know, if, I think if you’re going to be a lawyer and if you’re going to think you’re going to be in front of, you’re going to do trial work, there’s no greater moment than to be in front of the Unites States Supreme Court. So even though I didn’t win, and you know, it would hurt. I wanted to win.
A Ockershausen: You went to bat. That is America, right?
Roger Cossack: I got in the batter’s box.
A Ockershausen: There are winners and losers.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, and you know, I went up there a winner. I’d won that case at the district court level. I’d won that case in the court of appeals, and the government appealed it to the United States Supreme Court, and they took it and the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision, but I went up there a winner, so you know. Of course, that and I guess a buck and a half buys you a cup of coffee today. Maybe two bucks.
A Ockershausen: Who coined the phrase, you can’t win them all?
Roger Cossack: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: We’re talking to Roger Cossack, and great stories, Roger, and this is Our Town. This is Our Town. It’s Andy Ockershausen. I get all excited with Roger. We’re going to go into the rest of your life now, Roge.
Roger Cossack: All right.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
A Ockershausen: We’re listening and talking with Roger Cossack, a very famous attorney, a television guy. Roger, how in the world did you get into television, and how have you made such a big impact in the sports world?
Roger Cossack: Well, Andy, I’m going to tell you the exact true story of what happened.
A Ockershausen: Okay, so far it’s been true.
Roger Cossack: Everything’s been true, but I’m going to give you details that I usually don’t share with the public.
A Ockershausen: Okay.
Turning Point – Roger Shares Personal Loss – Losing His Young Wife to Breast Cancer
Roger Cossack: Okay? In 1991, my wife passed away.
A Ockershausen: You were still on the West Coast?
Roger Cossack: Still on the West Coast, and she died very young from breast cancer, and it was a sad time. I would say that for a few years after that, I was at odds, how you say.
A Ockershausen: Naturally so.
Roger Cossack: I didn’t really know what to do, and so after a couple of years, I had made some decisions about what I was going to do. I had practiced law. I’d continued practicing, but I’d reached a point where I didn’t know. I was thinking about going back into the university. I just was unclear about how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. In 1994, I had made a decision to at least suspend practicing law for a while, and take some time and figure out what else there was for me to do if I wanted to change directions.
Now, truthfully, one of the things you realize quickly when you’ve spent your whole life as a lawyer is that you realize pretty much, if you’re not a lawyer for about two weeks, you realize it’s a reason you’ve been a lawyer is because there’s not much else in the world you can do. Short of changing light bulb, you can’t. I can’t build anything. I’m not particularly handy. You know, the notion that I was going to spend my life skiing sounded good, but wasn’t going to happen.
While I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life, in June of 1994, the OJ Simpson matter occurred. I was home on a Sunday, and it was the Sunday following that Friday chase that everybody saw on-
A Ockershausen: The automobile.
Roger Cossack: Automobile chase.
A Ockershausen: The Bronco.
How the OJ Simpson Case Changed Roger’s Career
Roger Cossack: The Bronco chase. I was home. It was four o’clock in the afternoon, and I got a call from a guy named David Margolick. Now, at that time, David Margolick wrote the At the Bar column for the New York Times. He was the legal editor for the New York Times. I knew him because we had met over a case or two that I had handled, and he called and he said, “I got to talk to you.I have to write a piece for the New York Times on OJ, and I need some quotes from an LA criminal defense lawyer. You gotta help me out.”
It was four o’clock on that Sunday afternoon, and I said-
A Ockershausen: That’s two days later.
Roger Cossack: Two days later. I said, “David, I just don’t have a lot of time for this.” He said, “You got to do this for me.” I said, “All right. 15 minutes.” So we spoke for 15 minutes and I talked to him about California criminal law, and I didn’t think anything about it. I went and did whatever I did. The next morning the phone, I had the phone next to the bed, and the phone rang, and I remember it was 6:00 a.m. I looked at the clock. It was 6:00 a.m., and I thought, who could be calling me at six o’clock in the morning?
A Ockershausen: On a Monday morning.
Roger Cossack: On a Monday morning. I pick up the phone and it was producer from CNN. “We’d like to talk to you about OJ and would you come in and be on television and talk about OJ?” I said, “How do you even know who I am?” She said, “Well, haven’t you seen the New York Times?,” because it’s nine o’clock in New York. It’s six o’clock here.
I said, “No,” and she said, “There’s a five page, or six page story on OJ”-
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
Roger Cossack: “And you’re quoted a half a dozen times in there.”
A Ockershausen: By your friend Margolick.
Roger Cossack: From Margolick, so would you come on and talk to us? Well, I’d never been on television in my life. I thought, well this will be fun. I told you I was sort of trying to figure out what to do with the next phase. I said, “Well, this will be fun.” I was very familiar with that Andy Warhol quote about 15 minutes of fame. I knew it. I thought, well this is going to be my 15 minutes of fame, and then when it’s over, I’ll go back to trying to figure out what I’m going to do the rest of my life. I thought, this will last a week or so.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely, it’s a nice-
Roger Cossack: Whatever, and so they, “Okay. What time are you going to pick me up?” Okay, they were going to pick me up.
A Ockershausen: They sent a car to pick you up.
Roger Cossack: They sent a car. Nobody had ever sent a car to pick me up. I thought this was a-
A Ockershausen: Not even the Supreme Court.
Roger Cossack on Nightline with Ted Koppel Regarding OJ Simpson Case
Roger Cossack: A big limousine shows up. My neighbors thought, this was the greatest. I thought it was the greatest. They’d pull up and I would get in the car. The first show I did was Nightline with Ted Koppel. Ted Koppel, I get in the chair, and I sit down, and Ted Koppel, and that voice, you know. “Hello, joining us today.”
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Roger Cossack: And he sits down and he says, “Joining us tonight is LA California criminal defense attorney Roger Cossack who’s the leading expert on the OJ Simpson trial.” So I start to say, “Wait a minute. I don’t know anything about the OJ Simpson case except what I’ve read in the paper,” but before I could say anything, he asks a question, and what he’s asking about is California law.
A Ockershausen: Right. That’s right.
Roger Cossack: That I do know.
A Ockershausen: What happens in California?
Roger Cossack: Yeah, that I know about, so I start answering and we’re going back and forth.
A Ockershausen: It’s a criminal case in LA.
Roger Cossack: I know this stuff, so he says, and it’s Roger this and Roger that, so finally I get up all the nerve I, “Well, Ted,” you know, it was like Ted and Roger. This is great. So we did it, and the next day, “Would you be on Good Morning America?” I thought, well this is terrific. I really thought this was going to be over in a week.
A Ockershausen: This is, you’re doing this pro bono.
Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren on CNN
Roger Cossack: Pro bono, and so after about two weeks, CNN, there was a thing and one of the things in the OJ Simpson case was he was in custody so he wouldn’t waive time, meaning that he wouldn’t put off his preliminary hearing. They wanted it right away. So, they boom. They had that preliminary hearing right away, within I think two weeks or three weeks, and CNN called and said, “Would you be our legal analyst for the preliminary hearing,” and I said, “Yeah, but you gotta pay me if you’re going to do that, you know, now.” Now you want me in there every day. So they made a deal. They paid me and I did it. Of course, I thought this preliminary hearing was going to be over in two weeks. Of course, I think it lasted two months, or six weeks or something.
A Ockershausen: And you’re feeding reports to CNN apparently.
Roger Cossack: I’m going in every day, sitting on the thing.
A Ockershausen: There was lawyers from all over the world out there doing that reporting. Court TV.
Roger Cossack: Being on television. Greta. That was when Greta Van Susteren and I started, and we did the preliminary hearing.
A Ockershausen: Was Greta with you out there?
Roger Cossack: No, Greta was in Washington.
A Ockershausen: Okay.
Roger Cossack: So that’s over, and the woman who produced the show, I said to her, “Wow. This was really fun. Thank you very much.” Now I thought, you know, it’s over. Thank you very much, and I’ve never worked with a producer before. This is really terrific for me. It’s all a brand new responsibility. Good bye. I went home, and as I got home, my receptionist at the law firm called and said, “What did you tell this person from CNN?” I said, “I told her goodbye.”
A Ockershausen: Right.
Roger Cossack: She said, “Well, I don’t know, but some vice president from CNN has been calling here all morning, saying, ‘Don’t sign with anyone until you talk to us.'” I didn’t even know what they were talking about. Sign what?
A Ockershausen: You got a product.
Roger Cossack: So the next day they called and they made us an offer. They said, “Would you be the legal analyst for the trial?” Of course, I thought the trial was going to last a month. It lasted a year and 14 months, or 13, whatever it was. Or, let me see. It started in January, I think it was over in October, and so maybe was that 10 months.
And during the trial CNN said, “We’d like you to, we want to start this show, and would you come to Washington?” I said, “Okay.” I mean, it was like foolishness. Okay. We came. I came and I thought this thing was going to last six months, because I thought this is going to last right until we stop talking about OJ, and when we stop talking about OJ, the sound you hear is going to be people turning us off, because who wants to watch two lawyers talking about legal matters every day. Which shows you what I know. That show took off.
A Ockershausen: It was amazing.
Roger Cossack: And went for, let me see. Went for almost seven years. Went from ’95 to 2002.
A Ockershausen: All on CNN.
Roger Cossack: All on CNN, every day, five days a week. I kept thinking that I was going back to California to be a lawyer.
A Ockershausen: Where’s your son? He’s still out on the coast?
Roger Cossack: My son was, I think he was up in Rhode Island, and I kept saying to my law partner, to my friends in law, “I’ll be back.” This is-
A Ockershausen: Well the business is still operating, the firm.
Roger Cossack: Well, other people are, but as you guys know, when you sign your first contract, you know, you don’t have any bargaining power at all.
A Ockershausen: No, that’s right.
Roger Cossack: I didn’t know anything, so I signed a contract. I’m ashamed to admit this, but it’s true. I signed a contract that guaranteed them three years of my time, and they guaranteed me five six month options, so that every six months they could have fired me.
A Ockershausen: Right, you’re a six month contract.
Roger Cossack: So I thought every six months, I thought I was going to get fired, and it kept just going on and on and on and on and on. I kept saying, “Don’t worry. I’ll be home in four months. I’ll be ready to do things.” But it just kept going on and on and on. One day I realized it wasn’t going to end. When it ended at CNN, so, from ’95 to 2002-
A Ockershausen: You were working with Greta all that time.
Roger Cossack: Working with Greta. Greta goes to FOX. I’m out, thinking well, what am I going to do, and while I’m thinking about it-
A Ockershausen: They didn’t ask you to FOX at the time?
Roger Cossack: We never got that far.
A Ockershausen: Okay.
Roger Cossack: Okay? I was you know, I was ready to sort of, I’d had enough.
A Ockershausen: Okay.
The Road to ESPN and Sports Legal Analyst
Roger Cossack: I thought I didn’t really, things were changed a little bit. I was thinking, what do I want to do? ESPN calls and says, “We have this crazy thing that happened where some guy from the Pittsburgh Pirates tripped one of the mascots that were having some race. One guy came up, you know. Would you come on as kind of a joke and talk about what the legal episode, legal?” So I said, “Sure.” I thought, ESPN. This will be fun.
A Ockershausen: Sports. Right.
Roger Cossack: So I went on ESPN thinking that that was a one time deal, and sure enough, about a week or two later, I get a call and, “We think we need a legal analyst.” I said, it shows you what a brilliant. So far you know what I brilliant business man I am, so I said, “What do you need a legal analyst for? You guys, you know, it’s a sports network.” “Well, we think that more and more there’s legal issues that we’re involved with.” I said, “I don’t think so. This isn’t for me. I don’t know.” So we kept putting it off, putting it off.
A Ockershausen: Had you gone back to the coast, or you’re still here?
Roger Cossack: No, I was still in Washington. By that time I had kind of fallen in love with Washington.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, you were our guy. Our Town took you over.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, and I really loved it, and so I just kept thinking, well, I don’t know. It’ll come to me any minute now. They kept saying, and then boom, the Kobe Bryant case happens. So ESPN said, “Well, listen, you don’t have to sign up. Just go do the Kobe Bryant case.”
A Ockershausen: Where’d you go, Colorado? Is that where they sent you?
Kobe Bryant – Cossack Covers Sexual Assault Case
Roger Cossack: Yeah, Colorado. “Just do that, and we’ll talk about everything else afterwards.” I said okay. I figure, Kobe Bryant. What’s that going to do? Take a month? All right, a year later now the Kobe Bryant case is over and I’d been going back and forth to Colorado. Now I come back and somebody from ESPN calls and says, “All right. We’re through messing around with you. You’re either going to take this. We need a legal analyst. It’s either going to be you or it’s going to be somebody else. What do you want to do?” So I said, “This is a great job. This is a fantastic opportunity. These are great people. It’s the kind of thing I want to do where it’s not every single day.”
A Ockershausen: You were like, on call though, correct?
Roger Cossack: I always say full-time part-time.
A Ockershausen: Yeah.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, and that’s what happened, honestly.
A Ockershausen: Had greatness thrust upon you, more or less.
Roger Cossack: I mean, honestly that’s exactly what happened.
A Ockershausen: Well Roger, I know following your career and seeing you on television, knowing what you were doing was a revelation that I had been listening to from a guy I used to work for named Ken Beatrice. It said, his mantra was, “Sports is no longer sports. It’s a legal experience for the players and the owners. Everybody’s into legal,” and he was right.
Roger Cossack: Well, I think what’s happened is, sports is obviously such a big business, and it’s become part of the American culture.
A Ockershausen: And money. Big, big bucks.
Roger Cossack: Once it becomes part of American culture, there’s other parts of American culture. Law is part of American culture, and once you get, sports has become so much a part, obviously there’s going to be law involved.
A Ockershausen: Well, Roger, this has been so, so entertaining and so interesting. We’re going to take another break and come back and talk to you about some personalities that you have quote, covered, uncovered.
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Announcer: Our Town, with Andy Ockershausen.
A Ockershausen: This is Our Town, and Andy Ockershausen talking to Roger Cossack, the world’s most famous sports analyst, attorney, lawyer. The difference between attorney and a lawyer is money. You understand that, of course.
Roger Cossack: I understand that. Of course the category’s a rather narrow category, so I, you know.
A Ockershausen: But Roger, now ESPN has hired you to do something that was probably so far from your mind when you came East, was being a legal analyst for a sports network.
Roger Cossack: Right.
A Ockershausen: What a revelation.
Roger Cossack: Right. I never thought, as I told you earlier, it never occurred to me that a sports network needed a legal analyst, but if you think about it now, and you look backward, you see how sports has, is today so much part of the American fabric, and what America’s all about, and once you get into making sports so much part of our culture, then law gets in there also.
A Ockershausen: And big money, Roger. Big bucks.
Roger Cossack: Huge. Huge money.
A Ockershausen: Now Roger, some of the people that you covered, in addition to OJ Simpson trial, you covered the Kobe. You went to Colorado, remember? You, when you left town, you said, “I’ll be back quickly,” but you weren’t.
Kobe Bryant Continues High Scoring Streak During Legal Battle
Roger Cossack: Yeah, I’ll be back in a week. A year later I came to see you guys.
A Ockershausen: Kobe, did you get any interest with Kobe? Any by play at all, or did you see him?
Roger Cossack: No, I’ll tell you a story though. You know how cynical the press can be. We were up there and Kobe would fly in. He was playing for the Lakers.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I know. He was still playing.
Roger Cossack: And playing quite well. He would fly in for the preliminary hearing. They’d fly him in on a private jet. He’d get off the plane and they’d immediately bring him over to the court house.
A Ockershausen: Escort him.
Roger Cossack: Escort him, and I think the hearing would go from nine to whatever, 9:30 to four, and then they’d take him right on a plane, or right on a car and they’d take him right back the airport and he’d fly back to LA.
A Ockershausen: He could play that night, if necessary.
Roger Cossack: He could play that night if necessary, so what did they have, maybe two, three-
A Ockershausen: Who’s paying for the airplane, the Lakers or is Kobe paying? You never know.
Roger Cossack: You know, they never quite told me that one, but that was what he would do. So the press would sit there and we would see him go in and he was unbelievable. He would score. He would sit in that courtroom all day and then go home and score 40. That’s when you know Kobe was Kobe. He could really. So I remember one time we used to have this pool. How many points would he score?
A Ockershausen: To keep you alive.
Roger Cossack: So we’d sit around and we’d all, everybody would chip in the pool, and he would get, like 40, 30, 45, and so one night I think I said 50 or something, and he came darn close to it and I won the money. He was really a great basketball player.
A Ockershausen: Fabulous athlete.
Roger Cossack: It was an interesting case. We all remember he was charged with a sexual assault. You know, it’s one of those he said, she said.
A Ockershausen: No witnesses.
Roger Cossack: No witnesses and no one who heard anything, and there were, you know, it was clear from the evidence, as I recall, that the alleged victim in this case knew he had checked in under an assumed name, but she knew who he was. She was a young woman, and when he checked in, I remember the testimony was, I think that she volunteered to take him to his room.
A Ockershausen: And one thing led to another.
Roger Cossack: One thing led to something, but as you recall, they went to trial and after about three, four days, the district attorney said we’re not going forward.
A Ockershausen: Yeah.
Roger Cossack: And that was that.
A Ockershausen: And then he flew back to the Lakers. He continued-
Roger Cossack: Yeah, he flew back to the Lakers.
A Ockershausen: He put in the points. Now, how about Roger Clemens? His was-
Roger Clemens – Cossack Covers Perjury Case
Roger Cossack: Roger Clemens was right here in-
A Ockershausen: His is, is that a criminal case, is it not?
Roger Cossack: It was a criminal case. It was for perjury. It was right here in the federal court.
A Ockershausen: That’s right. US, right.
Roger Cossack: Right here in federal court in Washington, DC. I got to speak to Clemens during that matter. I knew his lawyer. I know his lawyer.
A Ockershausen: He is a Washington attorney?
Roger Cossack: No, he used a, where is Rusty from? Why do I want to say Texas? Texas. He’s from Houston, and I know his lawyer. He’s a terrific guy. So during the trial, he introduced me to Clemens and I got to speak to Clemens a few times during the trial.
A Ockershausen: He was a Texan, wasn’t he not, originally?
Roger Cossack: Yes. Yeah, Clemens is a Texan, and the government put on a case. The issue was, remember Clemens testified before the Senate, volunteered to testify before the Senate and he got up and he said under, “I never, ever used steroids.” Well, then they brought in his-
A Ockershausen: The doctor or some trainer?
Roger Cossack: Trainer or something, who said, “I furnished him with steroids.” Then they pushed for a perjury citation, which they got. This was a prosecution that-
A Ockershausen: It shouldn’t have happened.
Roger Cossack: It shouldn’t have happened, and they really had very little evidence. It turned out the trainer was a guy who just did not come across to the jury. I mean, the jury was almost laughing at the guy.
A Ockershausen: He was not credible. I remember that story.
Roger Cossack: No, no. It was a very weak prosecution. They just didn’t have much evidence. So that was Roger Clemens.
A Ockershausen: But it grabbed the sports headlines.
Roger Cossack: Grabbed the sports headlines.
A Ockershausen: He was so huge at the time.
Roger Cossack: Yep. Oh, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Because there were a lot of people standing in line too, right, to get charged.
Roger Cossack: This was a big case and Clemens, this was when they were going to make an example, I suppose, of Clemens. It just didn’t work for them.
A Ockershausen: Then you were, you covered, I guess, the hearing and the trial of Jerry Sandusky at your school, at your old alma mater.
Roger Cossack: No, at not-
A Ockershausen: Penn State.
Covering Jerry Sandusky Trial Emotional for Cossack
Roger Cossack: Not me. No, I’m a UCLA guy. No, but Jerry Sandusky was up there for the entire trial, with the great Jeremy Schaap, Dick Schaap’s son. We did that for two, three weeks, whatever that matter was.
A Ockershausen: Did you have to live up there at the time?
Roger Cossack: Yeah, yeah, and there was some great guys up there covering that case. The guy from Yahoo, why can’t I think of his name right now? Joe Drape from the New York Times, and Jeremy Schaap and it was about a half a dozen of us, and there was this wonderful, wonderful bar in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania called the Hotel, it was the Hotel Do De. The Do De Hotel. It had a bar that was so, it was like out of a movie. The kind of bar where there’d be-
A Ockershausen: Working class Pennsylvania?
Roger Cossack: Working class Pennsylvania, where there would be a drummer and a saxophonist and people dancing in the bar, and they proudly displayed on the wall when you walked into this place an exemption from the Pennsylvania Clean Air Act, so that people could smoke in this bar. So it wasn’t bad enough that it was the sleaziest bar you could find within 50 miles, people smoked in it. So we used to, after work, we’d go over there and hang out at the Hotel Do De, a whole group of us, and hang out at that bar.
A Ockershausen: What an experience.
Roger Cossack: And drink Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was just a great, with these great writers and Jeremy Schaap, and it was just a wonderful experience. Now I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’ll probably get me fired from ESPN, but the jury came in that night, and the jury came in, I guess it was at about 8:30, nine o’clock. We knew they’d been out and we were thinking, are they coming back, are they not coming back? Oh, we’ll go over to the Hotel Do De. They’re not coming back tonight.
Well, of course you know, we’re just sitting down, getting ready to rumble, and of a sudden we get a notice that the city sent somebody over to tell us, “Get back there. The jury’s back,” and we were all in the bar. So that was that, and that was, of all the cases I’ve ever tried, or excuse me, I’ve ever worked on, reported on, this is the one, this and the Duke LaCrosse, are the two that stick out in my mind the most, because-
A Ockershausen: You were involved in that? The Duke LaCrosse? Were you representing any of the kids from Washington?
Duke LaCrosse Case
Roger Cossack: No, no, no. I was just reporting on it.
A Ockershausen: Oh, you were just reporting. Right.
Roger Cossack: I would just say that that Penn State Sandusky case, I sat in the courtroom and listened to the evidence, and you cannot help, you know how we get. You know, you hear this stuff-
A Ockershausen: You get emotional.
Roger Cossack: You can’t remember it five minutes after you hear it, because you hear so much of this stuff. That was a case that I will, when you listen to those kids get up and testify as to what they said Sandusky did to them, and how helpless they were, and how I think at least other people knew, or should have known what was going on. It’s the kind of thing that you wake up in the middle of the night-
A Ockershausen: It’s so sad.
Roger Cossack: It’s horrible, and you wake up in the middle of the night. You just can’t stop thinking about it, and it’s just, it’s a nightmare. So that was Sandusky, and the Duke case was another one I worked on. That was a case I think that taught us all a lesson, which is, the presumption of innocence really does mean something, because here were all these kids, young men who got arrested and everybody, the narrative was rich kids on Duke.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I know the story.
Roger Cossack: Obviously taken care of. Obviously, dealing this young African American woman who is supposed to be a prostitute. I mean, the whole narrative was such and they took advantage of her, and they did this.
A Ockershausen: It was the rich against the poor.
Roger Cossack: The rich against the poor, et cetera, et cetera. Then of course, it turns out not to be true, and it turns out there was a crazy prosecutor who was-
A Ockershausen: The Evans boy we know real well. Brendan knew him at school, at Saint Albans, and Evans and his mother was a very dear friend of mine. So was his father, and they were two kids from here that really got charged for the thing. You know, I guess it ruined their lives up to a certain point.
Roger Cossack: It’s, and the lesson from that is, and I talk about this, not so much anymore, but during that time I talked about it. I said, “The presumption of innocence really does mean something, and when we forget about it, things like this happen.” I mean, the presumption that all these kids were guilty. Then, of course, there was no evidence, and it turned out there was a prosecutor who was eventually disbarred.
A Ockershausen: Oh, absolutely. He looked like he was onto somebody, like he was on the take or something. He was determined to crucify these kids. Rich and poor.
Roger Cossack: Yep.
A Ockershausen: He was resentful, the Duke’s, what is it? The Duke way of life, I guess you’d call it.
Roger Cossack: Well, he was running for election, re-election. No one really understood. I don’t think anybody ever really understood what he was, why he did what he did, but he did it, and with that kind of power, you can ruin people’s lives. You have a tremendous amount of power as a prosecutor, and you have to use it wisely and judiciously.
A Ockershausen: Incredible. Now you’ve got another life that you shared with us. You’re going back to California to teach again at Pepperdine.
Pepperdine School of Law
Roger Cossack: My 11th year.
A Ockershausen: 11 years. I can’t believe that.
Roger Cossack: I know, me neither. I’m such a young guy.
A Ockershausen: Well, in addition to teaching, do people ask you to come, you doing the speaking circuit? Do you appear before groups and explain the law and what’s going on, and so forth? Get paid?
Roger Cossack: I do, I do, I do, and I do. I do some speaking. You know, I go out to California. They’ve been very good to me. This is my 11th year.
A Ockershausen: Marvelous school. Great law school, correct?
Roger Cossack: It’s a good law school, and it’s fun to be in California. You know, when it gets cold here, I’m out there in the warm, lovely weather. I’m from-
A Ockershausen: You’re getting paid.
Roger Cossack: Yeah, I’m from that Southern California area, so I have a lot of friends I went to school with who live in that area that I go back and visit, and it’s a great way for me to stay in contact with wonderful old friends.
A Ockershausen: What is it, two or three months it lasts?
Roger Cossack: Three months.
A Ockershausen: That’s something to look forward to. I mean, God, you’ve been blessed in a lot of ways. I’m sorry you lost your wife, but you know, you still have a life.
Roger Cossack: You know Andy, it took me a lot of years to come to that conclusion. I’m very fortunate, in many, many ways. It was a terrible loss for me-
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Roger Cossack: Losing my wife, a terrible loss, you know, for my son to lose his mother and it took us a long time to recover, but my son is doing really well, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have, to meet another woman out here after all these years in Washington who I’m very, very close with, and-
A Ockershausen: Roger-
Roger Cossack: In that sense, and have good friends.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely. You’ve made such a big impact on our town, and besides your legal work, as a friend of so many people. You got involved in a club, you play golf with the guys. I know you’re at Saint Albans Tennis. You got a full life.
Roger Cossack: And don’t forget that Wednesday night poker game.
A Ockershausen: Oh.
Roger Cossack: Which every now and then I see you show up for.
A Ockershausen: I come for the food, Roger. You know that. I know who’s has the best food and when they serve it and so forth. I used to play all the time, and I said one time to Janice, I said, “$85 for a sandwich is not worth it.”
Cossack, Jacomo, and Friends at the Racetrack – a Thanksgiving Tradition
Roger Cossack: I know. Tommy Jacomo, you know from the Palm.
A Ockershausen: I know Tommy. Roger Cossack: Used to go to the, we used to go to the racetrack at Laurel every Thanksgiving. There was about 10 or 12 of us that would go every Thanksgiving.
A Ockershausen: He loves the track.
Roger Cossack: So now, Thanksgiving morning, they open the track up like 9:30 in the morning. You can only imagine who’s at the racetrack at ten o’clock in the morning, or nine o’clock in the morning on Thanksgiving morning. So Tommy Jacomo and I, and a bunch of guys would go, and we’d inevitably lose money. We would walk out of the racetrack. They would give you, on Thanksgiving morning they’d give you a choice. You want a mince pie or a pumpkin pie? We’d look at each other and say, “How much did your pie cost you today? My pie? My pie cost about 400 bucks. How much did your pie cost?”
A Ockershausen: But you had a wonderful time.
Roger Cossack: We always had fun.
A Ockershausen: With Tommy Jacomo. Well Tommy’s going to be sitting in that seat. It was great to see you the other night at our kickoff of Our Town, and it’s great that we have an opportunity to have you in our town, and it’s great Roger. I keep using that word I shouldn’t do, great, but it’s a fact that you’re very important to us and to Our Town.
Roger Cossack: Well, thank you.
A Ockershausen: And I’m so glad you’re here, and I’m so glad you’ll stay, and please try to listen to us, to Bill Regardie. In spite of what he says, he’s got talent.
Roger Cossack: Oh no, I know. In spite of himself, he’s got a great deal of talent, and he’s been important to Washington.
A Ockershausen: Exactly. Thank you, Roger. Good luck to UCLA. They got a big game coming up and then they got to play USC.
Roger Cossack: That’s right. I’ll be out there for that.
A Ockershausen: Where do they play this year? In the Coliseum?
Roger Cossack: No, they play in the Rose Bowl, and I’ll be there.
A Ockershausen: Oh, your game.
Roger Cossack: I’ll be out there.
A Ockershausen: That’s the life. Thank you Roger Cossack. This is Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, season one, with your host Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town podcast episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. We welcome your comments and suggestions on how you like the show, or who you’d like to hear from next. Catch us on Facebook at Our Town, DC or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to WMAL radio in Washington, DC, for hosting our podcasts.
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