Jimmie Johnson

November 21, 2011 Character Witnesses

My stepfather was a Grand Prix driver on the European circuit back in the ’40s and ’50s. Sterling Moss was his best friend and he drove with Briggs Cunningham. He took me to several races but I never had any interest in motor sports, and even today I know little about cars except how to turn on the ignition. I must confess I didn’t even watch his races.

Typically I wouldn’t watch a NASCAR event unless tied to a chair, but I am a fan of Jimmie Johnson. Yesterday he finished sixth in the NASCAR standings after winning the past five titles. A great accomplishment, but not his best. That came on the witness stand. I root for him because he is a stand-up guy.

In Helio Castroneves’ trial, Jimmie testified as a character witness for co-defendant Alan Miller. In the middle of his racing season, he flew to Miami and spent the day waiting in the hallway for 5 minutes of testimony, and it meant the world to Miller.

I have seen the best and worst of people when called upon to help a friend in trouble. In Marv Albert’s case I called his good friend Bob Costas and begged him to be a character witness. Just a few minutes of his time to stand by a friend. He thought about it and called me back saying his agent told him it wouldn’t be good for his career to testify in a notorious criminal case. Bob is not a guy you want in your foxhole.

Dan Marino on the other hand is made of tougher stuff. When my partner Howard defended Tony Martin, a Dolphin wide receiver, Marino never hesitated to help his friend. He never thought of himself or of a possible smudge to his sterling reputation. He got on the witness stand, and just that fact alone spoke to a Miami jury.

I almost got Muhammad Ali as a character witness for Alex Daoud. He wanted to do i,t but begged off because he couldn’t speak. I said just show up and be mute! Instead we used former heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas. He was wonderful and the jury loved him.

My favorite story about character witnesses involves the Rev. Billy Graham. Edward Bennett Williams used him as a character witness for former Texas governor and Treasury Secretary John Connally.  Williams brought in a dazzling array of character witnesses: Lady Bird Johnson, Barbara Jordan, then Reverend Graham. Williams asked Graham “What is your occupation” and with his hand still on the bible he said: “My name is the Reverend Billy Graham and I preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ from one end of Christendom to the other.” An elderly black juror uttered “Amen brother.” It doesn’t get better than that.