Cohn Barred From Practicing Law in N.Y.
Roy M. Cohn, one of the nation’s best-known lawyers since his Cold War service as Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s chief aide, was disbarred in New York state Monday.
The five-member Appelate Division of the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously to bar the 59-year-old Cohn from practicing law, effective immediately, for four charges of professional misconduct.
“Simply stated, the four charges involved alleged dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation,” the court wrote in a 49-page decision.
According to the court, Cohn borrowed $100,000 from a client in 1966 but did not repay the loan until the client was to testify before the disbarment hearings in 1984; improperly used a $219,000 escrow fund established by a 1971 court order; convinced an 84-year-old millionaire to change his will “under circumstances of misrepresentation,” and lied about previous judicial findings of misconduct on an admissions application to the District of Columbia Bar.
These were “serious charges which reflect adversely on the legal profession and the reputation of those who practice before the bar,” the court wrote. “One need not be a lawyer to recognize the impropriety of such conduct.”
The ruling was the most recent blow in a series suffered by the flamboyant Manhattan lawyer, political power broker and society figure. The U.S. Justice Department sued Cohn for nearly $7 million in back taxes earlier this spring. He has said he was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1984, and has been an outpatient in recent weeks at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
Spokeswomen at Cohn’s law office in Manhattan and home in Greenwich, Conn., said he could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon. “He’s out on his boat, as a matter of fact,” said a spokeswoman at Saxe, Bacon & Bolan, Cohn’s law firm. “He doesn’t even know yet.”
Cohn’s lawyers will “review the decision with him” before deciding whether to appeal, said Eugene Gelernter, one of Cohn’s attorneys.
The Appelate Division would have to grant permission for such an appeal and court officials said no New York attorney has been reinstated after disbarment. About 25 to 30 lawyers are disbarred each year in the state, officials said.
The court’s ruling came after nearly three years of investigation and proceedings, including 27 days of closed-door hearings, before a court-appointed legal disciplinary committee. The proceedings were the longest in the state’s history, officials said.
“It was a careful, deliberate and fair decision, which followed a careful, deliberate and fair prosecution,” said Michael Gentile, chief prosecutor for the disciplinary committee.
Cohn previously had attacked the six-member disciplinary committee as “yo-yos” and “a bunch of deadbeats,” and denied the charges as “a bunch of baloney.”
“I’m feeling satisfied,” Gentile said. “I hope this puts to rest any mischaracterization of what the evidence was in the case.”
McCarthy Panel Counsel
Cohn became a national figure in 1953-54 when he served as chief counsel to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which McCarthy headed. For two years, Cohn helped McCarthy in his wide-ranging and often unfounded attacks on alleged communists in the U.S. government and military.
Later, in the 1960s, Cohn was indicted, tried and acquitted three separate times on federal criminal charges in New York.
As a lawyer, Cohn has specialized in divorce cases and in defending accused organized crime figures. His practice has declined with the onset of his illness, and he was last reported in court in January representing alleged mob chieftain Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno.
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