After successfully defending lawyers, judges, public officials and scores of prominent, high profile business people in criminal cases for the past 27 years, compiling a track record in the process that resulted in his being named one of the Best Lawyers in America, Barry A. Cohen now also puts his talents to use on behalf of catastrophic injury or death, complicated civil litigation involving fraud issues, patent litigation, qui tams, medical malpractice, products liability, and civil and criminal cases.
Since expanding the focus of the firm he founded in 1975 to the civil litigation arena, he obtained the year’s, and reported nation’s, largest verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit in 1995 in the sum of $500 million. This verdict was rendered on behalf of the parents of a young boy who inhaled toxic fumes from illegally and irresponsibly disposed chemicals.
In addition, insurance companies have paid his office tens of millions of dollars in confidential resolutions for various other clients. Within the past few years, Barry has either settled cases or won jury awards in excess of $25 million, $16.5 million, $10 million, $8 million, $6 million, $3 million, and a several cases in excess of a million dollars.
After spending four years as a state prosecutor in Tampa, Barry went into private practice in 1970 with the then Hillsborough County State Attorney, Paul Antinori. Five years later, Barry opened his own firm, which now employs 10 lawyers and a staff of nearly forty, including a registered nurse, private investigators, and civil and medical malpractice paralegals.
Barry is perhaps most well known and respected for the commitment, tenacity and resourcefulness that he brings to bear on behalf of his clients. These qualities, combined with insight and instincts honed through years of litigation, make Barry and his firm formidable adversaries who are uniquely adept at determining the value of a particular case. As an example, in 2004, he was offered $1 million to settle a case in which a young University of South Florida student was kidnaped from her North Tampa apartment complex, shot three times in the head and left for dead. Fortunately, she was able to crawl to a nearby house, paramedics were called and she survived the attack. Convinced that the offer of $1 million was wholly inadequate, Barry decided that a jury would decide the amount at trial. The result was a combined verdict and putative award which resulted in a collection in excess of $19 million.
Barry was offered $15,000 to settle a case in which an on-duty security guard shot and wounded a tenant of a condominium association. Barry and his client took the case to trial. The result: A verdict of $2.9 million, almost 200 times more than the originally offered settlement and many times more than the client ever thought he would receive.
A wrongful death verdict for 500 million dollars for a toxic tort against a manufacturer, insured that Barry and the firm would be recognized as a major force in the practice of civil litigation in the Southeast. Barry and the firm are also engaged in business-related litigation, including fraud, civil RICO, bad faith, defective products, premise liability, medical malpractice and class action cases.
Barry represented the then Hillsborough State Attorney who was the target of a federal grand jury investigation, by going to war with then U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle. Barry took out newspaper advertisements calling Merkle’s political corruption investigation nothing more than a political witch hunt and likening Merkle to the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. One advertisement read: “Merkle’s McCarthyism mentality is a threat to innocent people.” Barry also accused Merkle of criminal misconduct on national television in a dramatic appearance on 60 Minutes. Salcines was never charged with a crime. Because of the public nature of this litigation and Merkle’s abuse of power, Barry had to creatively fight this battle in the court of public opinion.
Barry again went to war, taking on the Pinellas County State Attorney’s Office in the manslaughter case against a doctor charged in the boating deaths of four teenagers in the Intercoastal Waterway. The doctor was acquitted on all four counts.
Barry halted a grand jury investigation into a Hillsborough Circuit Judge wrongly accused of financial impropriety by a prison inmate who was trying to get early release.
According to The Tampa Tribune, “… the most telling indication of Barry’s courtroom reputation is this: When judges and lawyers need an attorney, it is Barry they often hire.” In the late s, then-chief Hillsborough Circuit Judge hired Barry to defend him both in criminal and civil court. The judge had been charged with violating the civil rights of the ex-husband of another judge’s secretary; he had found the ex-husband in contempt of court and had him jailed even though the judge didn’t have on his robe, was only in the outer office of his chambers and had no jurisdiction over the divorce case. Barry won both the criminal and the civil trials.
In a case that has attracted national attention, Barry and his firm exposed the injustices perpetrated by the U.S. Government and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department in the case against Steven and Marlene Aisenberg, whose baby daughter Sabrina vanished on November 24, 1997. After the largest manhunt in the history of Hillsborough County failed to locate the child, the couple were indicted for conspiracy and lying to federal investigators regarding their daughter’s disappearance. The heart of the government’s case against the Aisenbergs was a series of oral intercepts of private conversations recorded in the Aisenbergs’ kitchen and bedroom over an 83-day period. When the government produced transcripts of the conversations purporting to contain highly inflammatory and incriminating statements, Barry went on record with the Court stating that the tapes were inaudible, unintelligible, and taken out of context. After a lengthy evidentiary hearing, a U.S. Magistrate agreed, writing that the investigators’ use of the tapes was “reckless,” “baseless,” and “distorted.” Shortly thereafter, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed the indictment, setting off a firestorm of criticism in both the local and national media of the government’s tactics.
Barry has had considerable experience with stopping federal investigations. A very successful telemarketer from the east coast of Florida was facing federal indictment on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy carrying a possible 30-year prison sentence and restitution up to $20 million dollars. The grand jury was in session and the client “unhappy with his large New York law firm“ came to Barry asking for help. Barry assigned four attorneys and two in-house investigators to assist him on the case. He then hired 10 independent investigators, all retired agents from the I.R.S., F.B.I., U.S. Customs, and D.E.A, along with one outside attorney to also work on the case. Nearly 1,000 interviews were conducted and sworn statements were taken. After Barry presented his case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the federal investigation was dropped prior to indictment.
Barry and his firm are no strangers to the field of commercial litigation either. Barry represented a local business owner after his insurance company refused to pay a claim arising from a fire that destroyed his retail store. The insurer alleged that the businessman intentionally set the fire to fraudulently collect insurance proceeds. After a lengthy investigation and litigation, Barry established that the fire was caused by natural causes and that the insurance company acted in bad faith in denying the claim. The criminal case against client was dropped and the client received recompense in millions over the amount of the original claim when they evaluated the bad faith litigation to follow.
A local franchisee retained Barry in an action arising when the client’s franchise was unilaterally revoked by a national franchisor. Barry pursued numerous tort claims in addition to contract claims and was able to successfully negotiate a settlement in less than 2 months after being hired by the client in the multi-millions of dollars when the original claim was less than four hundred thousand.
As remarkable as Barry’s accomplishments are, it’s his passion for justice that truly sets him apart. Take for example the case of Jennifer Porter, a young school teacher who was charged with leaving the scene of an accident with injury or death after four children were hit by a car while standing in the middle of the street. Two of the children died. Barry hired people recognized as the best experts in the country, sent numerous investigators into the streets and challenged the Hillsborough State Attorneys Office to let a judge decide Jennifer’s fate. After a grueling 18-hour hearing that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, the judge in the case rendered his ruling: two years of house arrest and community service. The case was of major public interest resulting in a series of huge journalistic proportion in St. Petersburg Times.
Barry has transferred his zeal to the numerous cases on the medical malpractice side of the firm. He has taken on major hospitals and demanded multi-million dollar settlements from each institution. In one case, the hospital staff failed to properly treat a patient, causing him to develop severe brain damage and requiring him to have 24-hour care. The settlement: nearly $30 million. In another case, Barry is protecting the rights of an infant who suffered a severe brain injury requiring 24-hour care because a healthcare worker did not manage the baby appropriately during surgery. A jury awarded the infant and his family $10.8 million.
Barry enjoys litigating against what he calls “corporate bullies” – people who use their economic strength against the economically weak. Barry’s office assisted the government with a successfully resolved Qui Tam case in the amount of $325 million against one of the country’s largest chain of rehabilitation centers. The rehabilitation giant, caught squarely in the glare of post-Enron scrutiny, faced questions not just about the quality of its services, but about its financial practices, insider stock sales, business dealings among company officials and the independence of the board.
Among his other talents, Barry is also an accomplished lecturer whose views on trial advocacy and jury selections are much in demand. He has lectured on the topic of trial advocacy before The Florida Bar, led their Superstar seminar in Atlanta, Georgia, taught this subject at the National College of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and lectured before numerous bar associations on the art of jury selection.
In one of his more gratifying cases in protecting the economically weak was Cohen’s successful representation of the Florida Criminal Defense Bar’s efforts to preserve depositions as a discovery tool in criminal cases. He feared that if depositions were eliminated many innocent people would face criminal convictions. Leading this battle, Cohen became the first president of the Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association, at which time this group, under Cohen’s leadership, fought the battle in the Legislature and finally, Barry argued successfully before the Florida Supreme Court to preserve the right to question witnesses before trial when a citizen’s freedom is at risk.
Recently, an attempt was made to dilute the instruction of reasonable doubt in the State of Florida thereby making it easier to convict innocent people for crimes they did not commit. Despite the acquiescence of the Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers Association to this process, Cohen went to Tallahassee and argued this matter before the Florida Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the instruction would stay the same and Cohen’s argument prevailed over the statewide prosecutor’s association. Today, all citizens charged with a crime have this added protection against being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison.
An AV (the highest rating a lawyer can receive) rated lawyer during most of his professional career, he is listed in The Best Lawyers in America for the years 1985 through 2007, and in the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Barry Cohen was selected as a Law and Politics “Florida Super Lawyer” for 2006 and 2007.
Barry also enjoys widespread respect for his advocacy on behalf of those with limited access or power in the legal system, including economically disadvantaged clients who have been wrongly accused and unjustly treated by the criminal justice system. He has taken on the political establishment by defending a young African-American man falsely accused of raping a white woman from a prominent Sanibel Island family, and another poor, young man falsely accused of first- degree murder. Both men were set free after Barry took on their defense.
But Barry doesn’t just represent those disadvantaged clients in criminal court. When a father who was stripped of his right to raise his child came to his office and pleaded for help, Barry took on the case. In Florida, unless an unwed man files a form with the state every time he has intercourse, he can be stripped of his rights to any child born of the relationship. This law came about because the $1.4 billion adoption industry pushes for these laws, claiming they are protective of the fathers rights. But in truth, many plaintiffs believe these laws actually just make it easy to force fathers out of the way so that the rich adoption agencies can sell babies. The industry lobbyists for these agencies know that these laws are so obscure that even if the fathers know to file the required form, they probably wouldn’t anyway. In this particular case, the father had already lost his child because even though the mother admitted that he was the father, the child was adopted and a lower court ruled the father couldn’t fight for the child because he had not registered with the state the time and date of when he had intercourse with the mother. Barry took the case before the Second District Court of Appeal and won, giving the father another chance to gain custody in the lower court. (So.2d, 2006 WL 1234981 [Fla.App.2Dist.], 31 Fla. L. Weekly D1281)
Barry is a strong supporter of local bar associations and agreed to give a substantial gift to help build a Hillsborough County Bar Association Building – Barry has expressed an expectation that the room be used as a public forum for debate of meaningful issues to improve the administration of justice and to ameliorate public confidence in the system and those who have the responsibility of ensuring equal justice and due process of law for all citizens.