Mark Cohen

Member since: Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Last Visit: Never
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Common Pleas
Sitting Judge
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Not Recommended
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What has been the general nature of your practice?
As a state legislator for 42.5 years, I have worked to improve the quality of the legal system by supporting the establishment of sentencing guidelines, plugging loopholes in the definition of rape and other crimes, creating rights for crime victims, allowing DNA to be admitted into court as evidence, making prisons more about rehabilitation to discourage recidivism, and requiring legislators to take an annual ethics training. I have also, as an attorney, helped win before the U.S. Supreme Court (1) allowing colleges to have affirmative action programs and (2) upholding Pennsylvania's state election code, and helped-- through education, screening and evaluating cases for plaintiffs-- attain justice for various kinds of accident victims in personal injury cases in Pennsylvania courts.
Why do you consider yourself qualified to be judge?
I have over four decades of governmental service, serving with diligence and integrity, consistently getting required work done and avoiding the pitfalls of campaign contributions, ethical violations, and overzealousness beyond the law in constituent service and partisan politics; I have repeatedly told others that I want help for my constituents and others WITHIN THE LAW. I have worked to improve the institutions I have been a part of: I led successful efforts to establish legislative district offices; established written and public analyses for amendments to bills and resolutions; established and strengthened norms of civility, thoroughness and fairness in caucus and committee deliberations; investigated and improved the procedures of the workers compensation system, and initiated the effort to replace workers compensation referees with workers compensation judges; helped create the State Ethics Commission and authored provisions in its 1989 re-enactment; helped lead the successful effort to bring fugitive Ira Einhorn home to be tried for murder to meet France's extradition requirements; helped speed up justice by supporting the creation of many new judgeships to handle increased case loads; helped expand the pool of people able to become lawyers through promoting law school expansion--especially the creation of Widener's Harrisburg campus. In short, I value people, the law, and governmental institutions, and I work to see they achieve the best possible results.
What is it about our criminal justice system that inspires you?
The criminal justice system is inspiring because it balances the need for community safety with protection of individual rights. I find it inspiring that police often literally put their lives on the line to serve our communities; that prosecutors protect the public interest in safer streets and following societal rules; that defense attorneys work to make sure that the rights of their clients are protected within the process; that jurors spend their valuable time to carefully evaluate the cases; that the systems of bail, probation, parole, and prisons have many dedicated people within them. The philosophies of innocent until proven guilty, the same law for all, and everybody deserves their day in court are products of American history that we can all be proud of.
What about our current criminal justice system do you believe needs to be reformed?
Judges need more background information by which to make decisions. They need to be fully informed on the different social service agencies that work for or work with the courts. They need to know more about the practical effects of their decisions: the recidivism rates of various prisons and halfway houses, various lengths of sentences, various crimes, various anger management and personal counseling programs should be tabulated and made available to judges and the public. Rehabilitation of the accused and the convicted must be an even more important goal than it is today. And while we should work to improve our prisons, we should fight against the conception among some young people that going to prison is a typical rite of passage: judges should join police, clergy, social workers and others in actively, programnatically, and personally discouraging young people from engaging in criminal actions, and make it clear that they should live their lives in ways that avoid prison.We should be proactive rather than exclusively reactive, targeting people with social services who social science indicates are most likely to commit future felonies. And needless to say, we must make sure that those who are sentenced actually serve their sentences: there is too much anecdotal evidence of people getting lost in the system, and having extralegal delays or evasions of their sentences.
As a judge, what would your sentencing philosophy be?
My sentencing philosophy will be to sentence within the guidelines, unless there is clear and compelling reasons why the case before me is an exception, due either to compelling extenuating circumstances--such as being violently coerced or tricked into participating in a crime--or compelling aggravating circumstances--such as a crime that was so heinous and so motivated by malice that the guidelines are too weak. Wherever I deviate from the guidelines--which I helped establish to cut the disparities in sentencing--I will explain my reasoning in detail, both so that the public will know and the appellate courts can accept or reject my reasoning.
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night thinking about a case and wishing you had handled something differently? If so, please describe one situation.
I wish I had the time to take more cases while serving as a very active member of the Pennsylvania House. I would love to have been a legal leader for greater funding for the Philadelphia public schools before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, instead of just being a legislative leader for greater funding for the Philadelphia public schools; I was deeply disappointed that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, unlike the Supreme Courts of other states, declined to issue orders on the need for equalized school funding in different areas of the state; I have wondered whether my appellate advocacy could have influenced the result.
Who are your role models and why?
My role models include (1) my father, the late Councilman at Large David Cohen, who was unyielding, highly principled and deeply committed to the advancement of his constituents; he was among, many other things, a driving force within City Council for the creation of the Criminal Justice Center; (2) House Speaker K.Leroy Irvis, the greatest legislator of my era, eloquent, articulate, persuasive, and focused intently on expanding bipartisan commitments to promoting rights and programs for the public and strengthening the institutions of representative democracy; (3) Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, a highly influential unparalleled consensus builder for human dignity, equality, and free speech; (4) Thurgood Marshall, a superb builder of landmark civil rights cases as an attorney and a courageous dissenter as a Supreme Court Justice; (5) Widener University Commonwealth Law School Professor G. Randall Lee, who as my professor of Torts and Professional Responsibility, and as a popular statewide CLE lecturer, demonstrated time and again that ethics and purpose are tied in with results one achieves for clients and our society and that they are not merely rules to be observed but a guide in how to live.
What is your favorite book, movie, or tv show of all time and why did it speak to you so much?
Profiles In Courage by John F. Kennedy demonstrated that people in elective office can do important things that have lasting beneficial effects, and that a long view of the results of measures considered is more important than short-term popularity. It inspired me, and countless others, to seek careers in public office, despite the difficulties inherent in both winning and serving. As Kennedy wrote, "To be courageous, these stories make clear, requires no exceptional qualifications, no special combination of time, place and circumstance. It is an opportunity that sooner or later is presented to us all. Politics merely furnishes one arena which imposes special tests of courage. In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follow his conscience--the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of fellow men--each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.The stories of past courage can define that ingredient--they can teach, they can offer hope, they provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul."
Name a song that you were obsessed with as a teenager.
Blowin' in the Wind by Bob Dylan
What is you favorite number?
202, my legislative district number
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