Barry Cohen (attorney)
|Alma mater||Florida State University
Barry Cohen is a criminal and personal injury attorney in Florida's Tampa Bay Area. Cohen was hired by the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to represent the family of Ibragim Todashev, an unarmed Chechen shot to death while being questioned by the FBI in relation to the Boston Marathon Bombing. He has been characterized as a fighter for his aggressive legal tactics.
Cohen is media savvy, especially useful when his clients have a high public profile and are uncomfortable with the extra publicity drawn to their case. While many attorneys ignore the media's coverage, Cohen typically goes on a sophisticated "media offensive". Cohen has been quoted as saying that "defenders have to try to balance an inherent media advantage enjoyed by prosecutors."
His history of winning cases and the large legal fees he is now able to command have put Cohen in the position of being able to choose the cases he wants to handle, including accepting clients that cannot afford his fees such as school teacher, Jennifer Porter. Besides criminal matters, Cohen handles personal injury cases. "The same investigative, negotiating and trial skills that made him an outstanding defense lawyer also made him an excellent personal injury lawyer."
William A. LaTorre, a Clearwater, Florida, chiropractor at the wheel of his 35-foot (11 m) cigarette boat on Memorial Day weekend in 1989, collided with a 17-foot (5 m) boat full of teenagers. Four teenagers were killed and several more injured. LaTorre was charged with four counts of vessel homicide. Cohen painted a picture in the media as an unavoidable tragic event for everyone concerned. He portrayed LaTorre's arrest as politically motivated, and managed press conferences with LaTorre's tearful wife. LaTorre was eventually acquitted of all four deaths.
In 1992, former Chief Judge Dennis Alverez of Hillsborough County hired Cohen to represent him in an FBI inquiry into his handling of a legal dispute over the disposition of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse's multi-million dollar estate.
In 1994, Cohen represented Sheriff Everett Rice and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office when it was threatened with a lawsuit by former U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle for damages stemming from a false arrest charge after Merkle was acquitted of battery in a traffic confrontation. The Pinellas County Commission voted to hire Cohen as a special counsel at Rice’s request.
Jennifer Porter hired Cohen before she announced she was the driver of the Toyota Echo involved in a hit and run accident that killed two children and put two in the hospital in March 2004. When she drove away after the collision with the four siblings, she retained retained Cohen before she stepped forward in a press conference along with press releases. She was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. She eventually pleaded guilty to a felony, but did not receive a prison sentence. Her sentence was reduced to two years house arrest through a judge's ruling engineered by Cohen. After she had completed all but six months of her sentence, Porter requested that her teaching certificate be restored. Cohen said her excellent character references plus the expert testimony provided through Cohen's efforts, explaining how she suffered psychological trauma, testimony that convinced the judge to give her house arrest, should also persuade the state panel to let Porter maintain her teaching certification.
In September 2007, Cohen was hired to represent Nick Bollea, son of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan. Bollea, age 17, was driving a yellow Toyota Supra at high speed when he lost control, according to police. His passenger was severely injured. "A lawyer can drop a client, just as a client can drop an attorney", Cohen is reported to have said, making a general statement when announcing his withdrawal from the case.
In 1997 Steven and Marlene Aisenberg hired Cohen after their five-month-old baby, Sabrina Aisenberg, disappeared from her crib in the Aisenberg home. Baby Sabrina was never found and the reason for her disappearance remains a mystery. From the beginning the parents were the only suspects the prosecution investigators pursued.
Cohen, as the Aisenberg's attorney, appeared with the Aisenbergs as a guest on Larry King Live in 2001 along with several other guests to discuss the still unsolved case. The Aisenberg case has continued to receive national attention in 2007, ten years after the child has been missing.
Cohen said the police have a right to investigate the parents of a missing child, but it was law enforcement's continued and relentless focus solely on the parents to the exclusion of other possibilities and leads that was problematic and abusive in this case. For example, prosecution investigators received an illegally-obtained warrant to record over 255 private conversations in the Aisenberg home. The tapes were inaudible for the most part and none provided any evidence to prosecute the Aisenbergs. The tapes were transcribed into transcripts for the judge and for presentation to a grand jury.
Hyde Amendment fees
Eventually in 2007, the charges against the Aisenbergs were dropped for lack of evidence. In U.S. v. Aisenberg, Cohen sued the federal government for malicious prosecution on behalf of the Aisenbergs for reimbursement of legal fees under the Hyde Amendment, a federal statute enacted in 1997 to pay the legal fees of defendants who were victims of prosecutorial abuse. On February 1, 2003, the Aisenberg's were awarded $2.9 million to pay the legal fees for the then five-year-old case, the largest award in the ten years since the Hyde Amendment was enacted. In fact, very rarely is suing for reimbursement of legal fees under the Hyde Amendment successful. As of 2007, the award remains the largest to date. Although Cohen did not receive the $7 million requested in the suit, the amount awarded was far more than the $250,000 the prosecution was originally willing to pay.
Judge Merryday of the Middle District of Florida reviewed the case and explained why he ordered the federal government to pay the $2.9 million in legal fees and expenses under the Hyde Amendment. The judge called the prosecution's case “vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith.” The judge's decision is highly critical of the prosecutor's tactics. The judge also ordered the government to release to the public the grand jury transcripts as “the public is entitled to know” about the “misdirected and overzealous prosecutorial exertions” in this case.
The controversy surrounding the Aisenberg case has been covered on numerous media outlets, including the CBS program 48 Hours as well as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, and the Today Show.
Cohen was inspired by the Denzel Washington-directed film The Great Debaters (2008) to launch an Urban Debate League for at-risk schoolchildren in Hillsborough County. On May 15, 2008 Cohen underwrote a special screening of The Great Debaters for 250 underprivileged Tampa children, along with special guests Doug Williams (the first African-American quarterback to win the Super Bowl) and actress Jurnee Smollett, who won the 2008 NAACP Image Award for her performance as the female lead in the film.
- Dan Sullivan [Lawyers look into FBI killing] August 14, 2013 Tampa Bay Times
- "People involved". The St Petersburg Times. 10 September 1999. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- "Profile: Attorney Barry Cohen". Tampa Bay Life. 1991. p. 11. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- MacKenzie, Margaret A. Courting the Media: Public Relations for the Accused and the Accuser. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-275-99125-8. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- "Ex-judge hires lawyer with a high profile". St Petersburg Times. 8 May 2002. Retrieved 2007-11-13.
- "Merkle for the Defense". Florida Business/Tampa Bay. November 1989. Archived from the original on 24 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
- "D. C. Docket No. CV-05-00530" (PDF). abstractappeal.com. 25 March 2005. Archived from the original on 28 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
- "The Jennifer Porter Case". Tampa Tribune. 5 November 2005. Archived from the original on 22 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- "Child Killer Wants teaching Certificate Restored". 19 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- "Barry Cohen out as Bollea's attorney". 28 August 2007. Archived from the original on 19 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- "2nd Lawyer Now Off Hogan Case". Tampa Tribune Online. 19 September 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- "The Problem with the Aisenberg's". Glenn Bleck official site. Premiere Radio Networks. 2001. Retrieved 2007-11-09. (article no longer available)
- "Larry King Live – What Happened to Sabrina Aisenberg?". CNN. 7 March 2001. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- "Aisenberg bill for feds: $2.9-million". Saint Petersburg Times. 1 February 2003. Archived from the original on 19 December 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-09.
- "Punch & Jurists – The Cutting Edge of Federal Criminal Law". fedcrimlaw.com. 5 May 2003. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
- "Where's Baby Sabrina?". CBS News. 13 January 2005. Archived from the original on 14 January 2005. Retrieved 2005-01-13.
- "Events in the disappearance of Sabrina Aisenberg". St. Petersburg Times. September 1999. Retrieved 1999-09-10.
- "The Great Debaters". WTSP-TV (CBS affiliate). 15 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- "The Great Debaters"; 250 Children Attend Barry Cohen's Free Movie Screening
- Tampa lawyer argues for launching urban debate league
- Hit and Run—links to Jennifer Porter articles
- Merkle for the Defense
- The Law Firm of Cohen, Jayson & Foster, P.A.