Attorney Michael Koskoff is being courted by Hollywood.
The 74-year-old litigator is a first-time screenwriter with Marshall, a new film about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, out Friday.
Even more overwhelming for the man who boasts a 50-year background fighting criminal and civil-rights cases, was the experience of screening his movie last week for retired justice Sandra Day OConnor.
Surprisingly, to me, [she] was very close to Thurgood Marshall, Koskoff tells The Post. She said that he, more than once, was the person who swayed her to change her mind [on important votes] with his stories.
Koskoff and Marshall, who died in 1993, have storytelling in common.
Nine years ago, a friend approached the Bridgeport, Conn.-based lawyer with an intriguing and little-known case hed been researching: the 1940 trial of Joseph Spell, a black chauffeur who was charged with raping his employer, a white socialite, in nearby Greenwich. Spells lawyers? A young Marshall and Samuel Friedman, a Jew.
It was a great bond between an African-American and a Jewish guy at a time in history when both were subject to a lot of discrimination, says Koskoff. There was this great commonality of cause that I, myself, had experienced personally.
His pal thought the case would make a fantastic screenplay.
Koskoff agreed, and handed the idea off to his son, Jacob, and daughter, Sarah, who are both screenwriters. But they thought the material was a natural fit for their dad.
Why dont you try it? they told him. You know the courtroom, and you tell good stories.
So, Koskoff went to work. The kids set their father up with Final Draft, a software program used for screenwriting, and over the next two years, while still practicing law, hed squeeze in Marshall moments whenever he could: mornings, evenings and sometimes on airplanes.
Koskoff drew on his vast experience representing African-Americans in civil-rights cases including members of the Black Panther Party in the 1970s in Connecticut.
During one scene in the film, which was directed by Reginald Hudlin, a potential juror plainly admits his bias against both blacks and Jews. In reality, this moment didnt happen to Marshall it happened to Koskoff.
I actually had a juror come up in one of my Panther cases. He said he didnt think much of negroes he thought they were always getting into trouble and he didnt like Jews either, the lawyer says.
There are things [like this] that are important for understanding the context.
When he was young he was a kick-ass, party-loving, courageous and brilliant lawyer.
Koskoff also had witnessed courtroom scenes being bungled on-screen one too many times. He needed to get his beloved workplace right.
They get a lot wrong, he says of Hollywood. First of all, they dont know how to ask questions. They dont know how to make rulings. I dont think I had ever seen, in any [film], a jury selection one of the most important parts of the trial! You never see in [movies], really, the tactical decisions that are being made.
The first draft of the script, which Jacob ultimately co-wrote, ended up in the hands of Friedmans daughter, Lauren, who works as a therapist in New York, after the two were introduced.
She read the screenplay and she loved it, Koskoff says. She said, Would you mind if I showed this to a friend of mine whos a producer?
That friend was Paula Wagner, whose credits include Mission: Impossible and Jack Reacher.
Today, Koskoff is proud of the Marshall hes introducing to the world.
It was a side of him that was a footnote to history, he says. Most people who have an image of Thurgood Marshall have an image of a jowly, heavy, maybe avuncular [person] and that was how he appeared later in life. But when he was young, he was this guy he was a kick-ass, party-loving, courageous and brilliant lawyer.
Marshalls family was also thrilled with the portrayal of their relative, who successfully achieved a not-guilty verdict for Spell.
After seeing the movie, Thurgoods son John told the films star Chadwick Boseman, You got my father Im just so happy you got that sarcasm.
But Koskoffs most nerve-racking screening came when the rest of Marshalls family watched the film, including Thurgoods 90-year-old widow, Cecilia, who many call Cissy.
Im sweating the whole time. Are they gonna like it? Koskoff says.
So, I went over after the screening, and I leaned over to Mrs. Marshall and said, Cissy, what did you think of the movie? And she called me over real close, and she said, That man who played Thurgood. Hes a good actor and a very handsome man.
But not nearly as handsome as Thurgood was.