Ethics Complaint Accuses Judge of Using Bench to Espouse Personal Views About 'Irrelevant Matters'

An ethics complaint accuses a Florida judge of using his position as a “bully pulpit” to rail against drug laws and treatment of minorities.

Judge Barry Cohen of Palm Beach County is accused of making his comments from the bench and in written decisions, report the Palm Beach Post and the Associated Press. The complaint by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission acknowledges Cohen has the right to state his opinions in the correct setting, but “to do so from the trial bench is wholly inappropriate.”

The complaint accuses Cohen of criticizing marijuana laws and mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases. He is also accused of remarking at a community meeting that local police use racial profiling. The complaint alleges Cohen used his position to espouse personal views about “fellow players in the criminal justice system” and about “other irrelevant matters.”

Cohen’s lawyers issued a statement saying the judge “will vigorously defend himself against allegations which infringe on the ability of judges to perform their duties in an independent manner.” A judge since 1991, Cohen has scored high in local bar surveys, with top marks for knowledge and application of the law, according to the Palm Beach Post.

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