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Grant B. Cooper, 87; Lawyer Defended Sirhan Sirhan

May 09, 1990|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Grant B. Cooper, a prominent Los Angeles trial lawyer for more than six decades, whose clients included Sirhan B. Sirhan and Dr. R. Bernard Finch, has died. He was 87.

Cooper died last Thursday of an aortic aneurysm at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan, his wife, Phyllis, said Tuesday. She said he had continued to practice law from their home until the day he died.

Born in New York, Cooper dropped out of high school and did odd jobs, finally signing on with an oil tanker that brought him to California. After a bout of seasickness on another ship, he accepted an offer from a lawyer uncle to go into that profession.

Cooper enrolled in Southwestern University, where he was required to maintain a grade average of at least 85% because he lacked a high school diploma, and he graduated in 1926. By the time he passed the Bar in 1927, in an era when that was not a requirement for lawyers practicing in some courts, he had already won his first defense cases.

As a prosecutor, Cooper won death penalties in several murder cases. But years later, as a criminal defense attorney, he opposed capital punishment, claiming that it failed to deter murder.

Finch in 1959 and Sirhan a decade later were his most notorious clients. Cooper obtained two hung juries for Finch, who was accused with his assistant, Carole Tregoff, of killing Finch's wife, Barbara. But when--because of the press of other cases--an associate took over Finch's defense for the third trial, Finch and Tregoff were convicted. Sirhan was convicted of the 1968 primary election night slaying of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and remains in prison.

Cooper was a past president and founding member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, past president of the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. and past vice president of the State Bar of California. Professionally, he had served as chief deputy district attorney of Los Angeles County and assistant insurance commissioner for California.

As chief deputy prosecutor in the early 1940s, he helped Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron rid the city of a gambling syndicate. But because of electronic eavesdropping methods used in gathering evidence, Cooper and others were indicted by the 1942 Grand Jury. The wiretapping subsequently was ruled legal, and the indictment dropped.

In 1969, Cooper was fined $1,000 for contempt of court and publicly reprimanded by the state Supreme Court for illegally obtaining and using federal grand jury transcripts in the Friars Club card-cheating trial in which he had defended Maurice H. Friedman.

Cooper's first wife, Edna, died in 1934. In addition to his second wife, Phyllis, also a lawyer, he is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Natalie Wallace and Judy Tracy; one daughter and two sons from his second marriage, Meredith Worrell, Grant Jr. and John, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the USC Law Center or to a favorite charity.

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