Influential Criminal and Political Defense Attorney Stanley L. Cohen Stands by His Clients

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Professional Overview

Stanley L. Cohen
Stanley L. Cohen is the founder of Stanley Cohen & Associates, a law firm based in New York City. For more than thirty years, he has practiced law and criminal and political defense. Mr. Cohen has handled more terrorist cases than any other attorney in the United States in the past twenty-five years. He has defended more than a thousand activists and community members over a ten-year period in the summons part, criminal court, and New York State Supreme Court, on misdemeanors, felonies, and violations, including trial and hearings arising from Tompkins Square Park riot, defense of squats, tent city, protests, and demonstrations at Community Board 3. Mr. Cohen is also known for his international civil rights work with human rights organizations, political defense, and litigation outside the U.S. He has made an impact on the International Coalition for Freedom and Rights (ICFR) organization as well as several community groups in the U.S. and overseas. Mr. Cohen has represented individuals in Israel, Spain, Romania, Morocco, Turkey, Belgium, France, and England. He was admitted to the Bar in Romania and Morocco.

Mr. Cohen was born and raised in Port Chester, N.Y. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Manhattanville College and he earned his J.D. from Pace University School of Law. After graduating from college, Mr. Cohen served as a VISTA volunteer, living and working on the Winnebago, Omaha, and Santee Sioux reservations where he helped to set up a legal services project. He then served as a community organizer in New York City, where he ran a drug program for largely homeless teens in Westchester, N.Y. Mr. Cohen also served for a number of years as an administrator in a Federally funded anti-poverty agency before he attended law school.

After graduating from law school, he worked for the criminal defense division of the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York in the South Bronx through most of the 1980s. During that time, Mr. Cohen represented thousands of indigent defendants on charges ranging from fare beat cases to multiple homicides.

When the fearless attorney isn't working, he enjoys the New York Knicks and Yankees. Mr. Cohen also loves his wife's artwork. He and his wife enjoy viewing other artwork in small galleries and studios. Mr. Cohen is a frequent visitor of New York's Acappella.

Mr. Cohen Memories and Motivations

Mr. Cohen worked as a VISTA volunteer and community organizer after he graduated from college. He also worked as an administrator in a Federally funded anti-poverty agency before he decided to go to law school. What motivated him to help people in need? Mr. Cohen said he grew up in a time where the world was changing. He observed the Vietnam War, student activists, and the civil rights movement. Mr. Cohen added, "I grew up in a home where my family supported issues and they impacted me to make a difference in the world."

Did he receive any awards or participate in any internship that influenced his decision to go into the law? "No. My social work led me into law because I saw it as another step as an activist on a national and international level."

Does Mr. Cohen have a most memorable law school experience? He recalled scoring a perfect score on Pac-Man while being drunk on cheap beer. Mr. Cohen also remembered beating his professor at pool and winning a bet with his tax professor, which exempted him from attending his class.

After law school, he worked for the Legal Aid Society of the City of New York. How was this experience? "It was the perfect bridge from social work to working with criminal defense attorneys in the South Bronx. I had a great time and great experience as a litigator. It provided hands on practice in litigation that stayed with me for the rest of my career."

What is the best part of Mr. Cohen's job? "I don't view it as a job." He continued to say that throughout his career he challenged the status quo and had a role in bringing justice to his clients in the U.S. as well as overseas.

What are his strengths and one weakness as an attorney? "I am a great trial attorney who understands domestic and international cases." As for his one weakness, Mr. Cohen stated, "I bite off more than I can chew. I can't say no to people."

What area of the law is Mr. Cohen most passionate about? "Political defense work."

Is there an area of practice he would like to develop further into? "No. I am very happy with what I do at this point in my career."

If he were not a lawyer, what would Mr. Cohen most probably be doing? "I would be a stand-up comedian. Humor and satire is important for freedom and education in the world."

Where does he see himself in five years' time? "Living in the Middle East." Mr. Cohen said his favorite cities in the Middle East are Beirut and Eastern Jerusalem.

What motivates Mr. Cohen to be an attorney every day? "I fight. My mantra is simple: we live, fight, and die. You should find something that makes you whole in life and run with it. But it doesn't take much to motivate me."

How does he want to be remembered? "As someone who refuses to go silent in the night."

High-Profile Cases

From 1995 to 1997, Mustafah Abu Marzook was apprehended in the United States. Israel sought to have the leader of Hamas' political wing extradited to stand trial for his part in planning and encouraging terrorism against the Jewish State. However, Mr. Cohen stepped in and successfully prevented the carrying out of Marzook's extradition request. He was able to get his client into Jordan and then on to Syria. The U.S. authorities still have an arrest warrant for Marzook. How much hate did Mr. Cohen receive from Israelis as well as the Jewish community in the U.S.? "I remember what my adopted godfather told me: You look back on your life by the successes of friends and not by your enemies."

How did this make him feel since he is Jewish? "It doesn't bother me. I have friends around the world who support me. If you don't make enemies in this line of business, you should leave your job." Mr. Cohen also noted that he is still friends with Marzook. "His case has transformed my life in the past twenty years."

In United States v. Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye, Mr. Cohen represented a Somali Cleric who was arrested for possession of trace explosives "detected" when boarding a plane at an airport. He was able to dismiss the charges against his client. Mr. Cohen was also able to dismiss charges against his client in United States v. Dr. John Doe, where he defended a Syrian national with numerous immigration and U.S. citizenship-related charges. Dr. John Doe was also suspected to be connected with al-Qaeda activities in the U.S. and overseas. What did he learn from these cases? Mr. Cohen asserted that these cases didn't fully enlighten him of the issues in the Middle East. He admitted that we live in a time of Islamic phobia.

In the People v. Mona Elatahawy, the New York State prosecution of internationally renowned Egyptian journalist and blogger, selected as one of the hundred most powerful Arab women in the world, was charged with defacing an anti-Muslim pro-Israel poster in the New York Subway system. Is Mr. Cohen satisfied with the outcome of the case? "The case is still going on. We might go to trial in late April."

According to the New York Law Journal, Mr. Cohen questioned Abu Ghayth, who said bin Laden asked him about the airplane hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Abu Ghayth told bin Laden, "We are the ones who did it." Bin Laden then asked him what he expected to happen next. Abu Ghayth stated, "I said I don't have any military experience to tell you what's going to happen." How significant was the testimony of Abu Ghayth? Mr. Cohen noted that his testimony was significant, however, it doesn't give any insight on bin Laden or what occurred on September 11, 2001. A jury will deliberate Abu Ghayth's case on Monday, March 24, 2014.

What has been one of the most important lessons he has learned as an attorney after all these years? "We [attorneys] provide an unmatched vehicle to facilitate and protect people more than any other profession in the U.S. If you can't do it, you need to become a dentist or stockbroker. Unless lawyers are prepared, we are misusing our time and our calling."

Pro Bono Work, Mr. Cohen's Goals and Final Thoughts

Does Mr. Cohen handle pro bono work? Thirty to forty percent of his practice is pro bono. Mr. Cohen's pro bono work includes defending more than a thousand activists and community members over a ten-year period. His PayPal 14 plea deal, which took three years, was also pro bono.

When asked about his goals, Mr. Cohen claimed, "I would like Whoopi Goldberg to portray me in a movie."

Is there anything else he would like to share about himself personally or professionally? "I might have a book or two in the making."

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