Judge Cohen brothers share views as well as bloodby Jane Musgrave | January 7th, 2014
Ahh, the joys of retirement.
While respected Palm Beach County Court Judge Barry Cohen is awaiting word from the Florida Supreme Court about whether he will be disciplined after judicial watchdogs said he used the bench as a bully pulpit, his brother, retired Palm Beach Circuit Judge Harold Cohen is espousing many of the same views without fear of censure.
In a Dec. 30 column in the Gainesville Sun, Harold Cohen declared the nation’s War on Drugs a “mammoth failure” and advocated the legalization or decriminalization of all drugs.
Railing against what he called the “law enforcement/prison industrial complex,” he said the money generated by taxing drugs could be used for treatment and education, instead of spending billions incarcerating what are mostly low-level drug users who are disproportionately minorities.
Cohen, who retired in 2004 and now lives in High Springs near Gainesville, saved his most blistering comments for lawmakers, challenging politicians to “have the guts to admit what has been going on for the past decades is a charade.”
Harold Cohen’s comments are not unlike the views that got his brother in trouble – first with then-Palm Beach County State Attorney Peter Antonacci and later the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Antonacci, now general counsel for Gov. Rick Scott, first sought to have Judge Barry Cohen disqualified from hearing felony cases, claiming he had criticized law enforcement for racial profiling and prosecutors for pursuing ridiculous cases.
After that effort failed, many of the same complaints were made to the JQC, which said it found probable cause to take formal action against him. While many Cohen supporters viewed the complaint as politically motivated, Antonacci declined to say whether he filed it.
In April, Cohen, who earned top marks from local attorneys in the latest judicial poll, admitted he had overstepped his bounds and agreed to accept a public reprimand and pay the $3,000 the judicial watchdog agency spent on its investigation. The recommendation is pending before the state’s high court.