A let­ter from Barry Co­hen? Or not

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - Sue Carl­ton col­umn,

Tampa lawyer Barry Co­hen was known to stir things up, and a let­ter bear­ing his sig­na­ture sent to judges af­ter his death has peo­ple talk­ing.

Bull­dog at­tor­ney Barry Co­hen al­ways was the kind of lawyer who got peo­ple talk­ing.

So maybe he wouldn’t mind this posthu­mous mys­tery in the form of a let­ter that’s made its way though the lo­cal le­gal com­mu­nity fol­low­ing his death at 79 from leukemia in Septem­ber.

The let­ter in ques­tion bears his name — and some fiery Co­hen-es­que al­le­ga­tions.

And peo­ple who were close to the gi­ant of a Tampa at­tor­ney do not be­lieve he wrote it.

The three-page mis­sive, sent to at least 20 Pinel­lasPasco judges and also some lawyers, be­gins dra­mat­i­cally enough:

If you are read­ing this let­ter, I have passed, and my judg­ment day be­fore the high court has fi­nally come.

It pro­ceeds to at­tack op­pos­ing coun­sel and his ex­pert wit­ness in a re­cent case. It says the lawyer should be dis­barred and the wit­ness should lose his med­i­cal li­cense. It is writ­ten on let­ter­head that says “THE BARRY A. CO­HEN LE­GAL TEAM” and signed with his name and Florida Bar num­ber.

Co­hen’s wife, psy­chol­o­gist Bar­bara Casasa Co­hen, didn’t even need to see it. She says she would have known if he was work­ing on such a let­ter be­fore he died, and that he would not send out some­thing to be read once he was gone: “He con­sid­ered things like that cow­ardly.”

There is con­cur­rence on this point: “Barry had a very dis­tinct way of do­ing things and it was full-frontal,” says Tampa city coun­cil­man Harry Co­hen, who worked with him and was a friend.

“I spent lit­er­ally thou­sands of hours to his right as he wrote things. That is not his writ­ing,” says pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor Kevin Kal­wary. And Co­hen liked to be around for the fall­out. “He liked the con­fronta­tion. He liked the fight.”

At­tor­ney Steve Yer­rid, Co­hen’s dear friend, said this: “He wasn’t a cow­ard. He wasn’t a hyena. He didn’t hide and come and get what’s left. He took what he thought was right and he took it head-on, like a lion.” Barry the Lion­hearted. He would have liked that.

The case ref­er­enced in the let­ter was one of his last: He rep­re­sented Dr. Scott Plantz at the end of a years-long med­i­cal mal­prac­tice ac­tion, at­tack­ing the cre­den­tials of a doc­tor who had been an ex­pert wit­ness against Plantz.

It is vin­tage Co­hen that he took aim at op­pos­ing coun­sel Wil Florin. Florin had once rep­re­sented a for­mer Co­hen em­ployee ac­cus­ing Co­hen of breach of con­tract and some­one else in the of­fice of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. Co­hen was not a man to for­get such things.

He got the mal­prac­tice case dis­missed. “Karma is hell,” he told the Times.

The let­ter in ques­tion lists bul­let-point ac­cu­sa­tions against the ex­pert wit­ness and lawyer Florin. It al­leges fraud. It says Co­hen hoped to present this him­self to the Florida Bar and Florida Medi-

cal Board, but now hopes the re­cip­i­ent(s) of the let­ter will see that “jus­tice is served.”

How did judges re­act? “The let­ter ap­peared to many of our judges to be some­thing of a cruel joke, as it was post­marked well af­ter Mr. Co­hen’s death,” said Stephen Thomp­son, spokesman for the Sixth Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit, “so they dis­carded it since it didn’t seem to be re­lated to any of­fi­cial busi­ness.”

Even lawyer Florin, a sub­ject of the let­ter, is con­vinced Co­hen Con­tro­ver­sal at­tor­ney Barry Co­hen died of leukemia in Septem­ber at age 79. was not its au­thor. It doesn’t sound like him, and in fact, doesn’t sound like a lawyer wrote it, he says. Florin has be­gun an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into who did.

“I’ve al­ways liked Barry,” he said. “I just didn’t see him writ­ing this.”

Co­hen’s client in the mal­prac­tice case, Dr. Plantz, said he had never seen the let­ter un­til I sent it to him. No, he said when I asked, he did not write it.

And so, a mys­tery.

And re­ally no sur­prise that even af­ter he is gone, lo­cal le­gend and le­gal lion Barry Co­hen still has peo­ple talk­ing.

Scarl­[email protected]­pabay.com

SUE CARL­TON

Times files (2009)

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