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Legal Ethics

Popular judge accused of using bench as ‘bully pulpit’ is reprimanded

Posted Apr 30, 2014 10:20 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Florida judge honored last week by criminal defense lawyers stood in front of the state supreme court on Tuesday where he was reprimanded based on accusations he used his bench as a bully pulpit.

Judge Barry Cohen of Palm Beach County had admitted misconduct, including failure to act in a way that promotes public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary, the Sun Sentinel reports.

An ethics complaint had accused Cohen of using his office as a "bully pulpit"; Cohen stipulated that his intent was merely to “engage in a dialogue designed to improve the law and the administration of justice."

Florida Chief Justice Polston highlighted examples of wrongdoing when he issued the reprimand on Tuesdam the Sun Sentinel says. During a trial involving a defendant who failed to register as a sex offender, Cohen distributed a New York Times op-ed that questioned the wisdom of such laws. Cohen recused himself from the case after the prosecutor objected. In a battery case, Cohen questioned the "integrity of the system" and claimed prosecutors had "no concern about a miscarriage of justice."

The article describes Cohen as a popular judge who scores high in bar evaluations. The Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers honored Cohen last week by creating a Barry M. Cohen Champion of Justice Award. The association’s president, Emily Ross-Booker, said the group intended to honor Cohen ahead of the reprimand.

"If he has done the wrong thing it was only in trying to do the right thing,” she told the Tampa Tribune.

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