In an unprecedented move, interim Palm Beach County State Attorney Peter Antonacci has filed a 20-page motion with 52 pages of exhibits claiming that County Judge Barry Cohen is biased against prosecutors. Antonacci’s motion calling for Cohen’s recusal mentions, “Judge Cohen’s remarks over a period of years reflect a predisposition against the state and a persistent pattern of prejudging criminal cases on account of his bias and prejudices that work against the interest of the state of Florida.” Cohen rejected the motion this week.
The motion meticulously gathers comments made by Judge Cohen at community meetings, in a guest editorial in The Palm Beach Post, and at the bench. It mentions that Cohen is upset with and has railed against the disproportionate numbers of African-Americans charged with crimes. He has spoken against mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. And he has made public outbursts against the Florida Legislature for not adequately funding the courts. According to the State Attorney, all of these actions make Judge Cohen a biased person unfit to preside over criminal proceedings.
Cohen has been quoted as saying, “There is something very wrong in a criminal justice system and every day I look (at defendants) and see faces of young African-Americans and they have two things in common: their race and their lack of money.” Further, the motion alleges that in a 2004 misdemeanor case, Cohen, said from the bench, “I don’t mind that the fact I am saying this in a public courtroom to be noted by anybody. And I am not afraid to be an activist judge. Our system is totally out of kilter.”
Now that is preposterous, isn’t it?
When everything is okay in the Sunshine state, this judge says no?
The motion asks Cohen to remove himself from a specific first-degree murder case to be tried in August, and in another, the motion by the interim State Attorney says Cohen’s conduct should disqualify him from presiding over any criminal case. The motion also asks separately that Cohen disqualify himself from felony cases.
One detractor of the State Attorney Antonacci, defense attorney Richard Lubin, who read through the motion told the media, “To me it just has all the earmarks of an attempt to try to intimidate a judge who sometimes, and I mean sometimes, rules against the state … It’s also an attempt to send a message out to other judges who might get out of line. This is very, very unfortunate and unfair.”
Experts like Gary Farmer, a retired appeals court judge scoffed at the accusations brought against Judge Cohen. Farmer said, “The state of Florida is saying it fears the outcome of justice in one of its courts? It’s utter nonsense.”
There is no mention in the motion that proves or says that Cohen had ever been negligent of his duty or failed to observe requirements of the law despite open misgivings.