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Cohen calls for attention and gets it

Barry Cohen just can't resist a big case, even when it's not his.

Cohen reminded everyone of his status last week by calling a press conference at his office about the current county courthouse corruption investigation.

Both daily newspapers, three television stations and several radio stations promptly responded. And even after admitting he didn't represent anyone connected to the criminal justice bribery investigation, Cohen's remarks made it into most of the coverage.

Cohen told reporters he was angry at the news media's coverage of unsubstantiated hearsay about judicial and prosecutorial misconduct included in a deposition of lawyer Manual A. Machin, a witness in the corruption probe. Cohen also blamed the state court system for releasing the deposition in the first place.

"You may think this is somewhat presumptuous for some lawyer to call a press conference to be heard about something I'm concerned about, and maybe it is," Cohen said, "but your presence here is something I'm deeply appreciative of."

No doubt.

In case anyone (such as potential defendants) had forgotten, they now know one of the best defense lawyers in Florida is upset about the matter, and available.

Other lawyers in town noted Cohen's ink, and joked whether they could get front-page exposure by "summoning" the media to their offices. Perhaps _ if they were as smart as Barry Cohen and thought to do it first.

Surprisingly, the investigation into courthouse corruption was not a featured topic at the Hillsborough County Bar Association's annual Law Follies, held last week at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.

Instead, the Follies' Saturday Night Live-type show took shots at subjects such as Cohen's dispute over his $1-million-plus fee in the LaTorre manslaughter case, and Michael Kavouklis' much-publicized behavior in the Ian "Sandy" Wheeler grand theft case.

The new courthouse security system, Hillsborough's T-back bathing suit law and the William Kennedy Smith rape case also made the program. Skits about bribes and judges under fire apparently will have to wait until next year.

The job ranks among the most powerful, high-profile posts in the country: U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

But it packs plenty of politics and pressures, too. That may explain why only a dozen lawyers applied by last Friday's deadline.

Among them: Gregory Kehoe, chief assistant to Tampa's U.S. Attorney, and, according to the Miami rumor mill, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., son of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner.

U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral, will send the names to his 20-lawyer nominating commission, said Mack spokesman Mark Mills. The group is scheduled to meet in two weeks to winnow out three to five candidates.

Mack hopes to interview the finalists by next week, Mills said, and send a name on to Washington within a month.

"But once it gets to the Justice Department, timetable is not in their vocabulary," Mills acknowledged.

The Miami job opened up last month when Dexter Lehtinen resigned after three and a half stormy years. Lehtinen held the job on an interim basis and could never win U.S. Senate confirmation.

Kehoe is a former assistant U.S. attorney in Fort Lauderdale and well-respected as a tough, able and aggressive trial prosecutor. He won convictions of the Outlaws motorcycle gang and helped negotiate the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) guilty plea. Now he's leading the investigation of corruption inside Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Culverhouse, another former federal prosecutor, did not return phone calls last month or last week. But he supposedly has good connections to Jeb Bush.

Former U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Scott Jr. can have the job if he wants it, some Miami legal observers say. Now a partner at Miami's Steel, Hector & Davis, Scott left the bench in 1990, citing frustration about how drug cases had overwhelmed the court system and fears about his own security.