In a telephone hearing Thursday, Judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed prosecutors’ argument that they had not personalized a release form prohibiting Cohen from engaging with the media. Hellerstein said there was no other “inference” to be taken other than retaliation for why Cohen was returned to federal custody after being released on leave.
“The purpose of Mr. Cohen’s transfer from leave and house arrest to prison is retaliatory measure, and it is retaliatory measure because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights. to publish a book and discuss whatever he wants about the book or whatever he wants on social media, “Hellerstein ruled.
“In 21 years of being a judge and convicting people and reviewing the conditions of supervised release, I have never seen such a clause,” Hellerstein said.
Cohen sued the Justice Department on Monday, alleging he was returned to custody on July 9 to block publication of his book, which is due out in September, two months before the presidential election.
While ruling in Cohen’s favor, however, the judge said he would demand certain conditions regarding Cohen’s dealings with the media.
“Just as you wouldn’t be able to have a press conference from a prison cell, you shouldn’t be able to have a press conference from your home. You can communicate, you can chat, you can post on social media, ”Hellerstein said.
“You cannot make a person in prison or at home a totally free person. There must be a limit, ”he added.
The judge gave Cohen’s lawyers and prosecutors a week to negotiate the terms of his media contacts.
Danya Perry, a lawyer for Cohen, called the move a “First Amendment victory.” She added: “This principle transcends politics and we are happy that the rule of law prevails. ”
The ruling is the latest twist in Cohen’s legal drama. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations for facilitating silent payments to two women who alleged past affairs with the president. Trump has denied having had relations with the women.
Cohen was put on leave at the end of May as part of a release program undertaken by the Bureau of Prisons to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
A New York Post photographer captured Cohen having dinner at a restaurant near his apartment with his wife and another couple in early July. Cohen said this did not violate the terms of his release.
The following week, Cohen showed up at the courthouse to be transferred to house arrest and fitted with an electronic monitoring device. Cohen objected to the many conditions and was subsequently taken into custody.
Prosecutors said Cohen was fired because he had become combative and did not want to agree to the terms. They told the judge that the probation officer and the head of the Prisons Office who authorized the form did not know Cohen was writing a book.
The judge dismissed their argument, saying Cohen was released on leave without any conditions, but that changed after he returned to the news.
“Suddenly, when the New York Post article comes out and the BOP realizes that Cohen is writing a book and will likely finish before election time, conditions are imposed on him,” he said. declared the judge.
This story has been updated with additional developments.