Barry M. Cohen, Palm Beach County Judge Who Spoke Out on Racial Profiling, Reprimanded by Supreme Court

In October 2012, the Judicial Qualifications Commission's investigative panel filed formal charges against Palm Beach County Judge Barry M. Cohen for using his bench as, in their words, a "bully pulpit" and "a neutral and detached magistrate."

The findings came after the outspoken judge made some comments about racial profiling and mandatory sentences.

Specifically, Cohen criticized the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office for the way it handles criminal cases. He also criticized the law making marijuana illegal and has been outspoken on the county's police department's alleged racial profiling and racial bias.

Some would say Cohen is just speaking the truth. The panel, however, found it inappropriate behavior for a judge and recommended a reprimand by the Florida Supreme Court. On Tuesday morning, Cohen received that reprimand.

For his part, Cohen admitted to being outspoken on racial profiling and said he shouldn't have made the comments in court. He also apologized for a perceived partiality as a judge and explained that his opinions were merely a way to "engage in a dialogue designed to improve the law and the administration of justice," according to a stipulation signed by Cohen's attorneys and the commission.

"Judge Cohen now recognizes that when speaking from the bench, he must be mindful that 'the robe magnifies everything,' and that the judicial office imposes speech and conduct restrictions that would be burdensome to ordinary citizens," the stipulation also reads.

According to the panel's 2012 written verdict, Cohen had used his bench not only to criticize the law making marijuana illegal but also to express concern over the propriety of the minimum mandatory sentencing for oxycodone trafficking.

He also said that minorities are disproportionately arrested, prosecuted, and jailed and that they are racially profiled by police.

Below is a video of Cohen speaking about racial profiling at an open forum:

Cohen has also spoken out on the justice system's alleged discrimination of poor minorities and once said that African-American residents of Palm Beach cannot exercise their constitutional rights.

The panel also found a letter Cohen wrote to the editor of the Palm Beach Post inappropriate. In the letter, dated in March 22, 2012, Cohen identified himself by name and wrote about the qualifications of a candidate running for state attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit Court.

The panel, however, found no evidence that the judge's opinions affected his work, ruling that "his rulings and decisions were not adversely affected" by his statements.

Because Cohen admitted to the things he said and apologized, the panel recommended only a reprimand from the state's highest court.

Cohen was also ordered to pay $3,071 in court transcript costs.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph