When baby Sabrina Aisenberg disappeared from her family's Valrico home in November of 1997, suspicion fell on her parents, Steve and Marlene. Sabrina has never been found, but her parents were cleared in the case. That was thanks, at least in part, to their attorney, Barry Cohen.
For decades, Cohen has been controversial for his high-profile tactics defending clients like the Aisenbergs. He's held elaborate press conferences railing at powerful government and corporate officials. Some reporters have called it "Barry holding court." Why?
HE ADMITS IT!
Cohen says when he meets people for the first time, they often feel they already know him.
"People say to me all the time 'You're a lot different than what I thought you were like."
"What did they think you were like?" I inquired.
"Well, they thought I was an arrogant ass****. They see the side of me that's kind of a jerk on television. I'm jumping on somebody's ass."
He doesn't deny that sometimes it's for the benefit of the cameras.
"People say I'm a media hound, a narcissist. Both may be true," Cohen offered. "But, the fact is that I use the media in certain cases to tell the public the truth or tell the public the other side of the story."
FIGHTING THE "MAD DOG"
It's nothing new. Decades ago, he was featured in a story on '60 Minutes' when he took on Tampa's powerful U.S. attorney, Robert "Mad Dog" Merkle. The local official Merkle was targeting for corruption, Cohen's client, was cleared.
On the screen was a young Cohen: "I told the people of this community that Merkle's McCarthy mentality is a threat to innocent people," he told Morley Safer.
Instead of running from fights, Cohen seems to run toward fights. That started at an early age when he developed a distrust of authority.
"WHERE THE RICH PEOPLE SAT"
When Cohen was a young boy, his father worked as a cook at an exclusive country club. His father took Barry to work with him one night.
"So I went out where the rich people sat," remembered Cohen. "This guy grabbed me by the shirt and took me back to the kitchen where my dad was working."
Cohen says the man yelled, bullied, and humiliated his father in front of him. Ever since, he's questioned and challenged authority figures, whether they are corporate executives, "or governments bullying a citizen because they have the resources to do so," he said with a glare.
ONLY ONE BARRY COHEN?
Although his hair has grayed, his passion for the law has remained red hot. He tells me has some big, new cases pending. He has three grown children and a 12-year-old named Barry.
His eyes go to a photograph of the younger one.
"He's very creative, very argumentative, and very tenacious," said Cohen.
"Like anyone else you know?" I ask.
"That's what my wife says," smiled one of the most argumentative, tenacious, and controversial lawyers who ever walked into a Tampa courtroom and dared opponents to fight.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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