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Interview With Stephen Cohen

Aired June 26, 2003 - 20:04   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to move on now to another high profile case now. No cameras in the courtroom that's what the family of Laci Peterson is requesting for the murder trial of her husband Scott Peterson. It is just one of the many developments today in the Peterson case.
National Correspondent Frank Buckley has the very latest.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Scott Peterson said he was reluctantly waiving his right to have a preliminary hearing next month.

SCOTT PETERSON: Well, I think we're forced to without the information coming from the prosecution.

JUDGE AL GIROLAMI: Well, you give up that right?

PETERSON: It's not my wish but yes.

BUCKLEY: And when the preliminary hearing and trial are held, say Laci Peterson's parents, it should not be televised. Sharon Rocha and Ron Grantski said in a letter to Judge Al Girolami that the trial will be painful enough. "If cameras are allowed to televise this trial we will all be forced to see, hear and relive these events over and over for years to come."

The letter was included in a prosecution request to bar cameras from any future proceedings on a day when the massive publicity surrounding the case took center stage.

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't need to try this case in the media.

BUCKLEY: Scott Peterson listened as his attorney, Mark Geragos, went after attorney Gloria Allred, Amber Frey's lawyer, for giving interviews despite a gag order covering witnesses and lawyers in the case. Geragos accused Allred of playing games.

GERAGOS: Of saying well, OK, on one hand I can't talk about this because I'm Amber Frey's lawyer. On the other hand, I'm going to -- this is my personal view as if it's some kind of a bad "Saturday Night Live" skit in terms of what she's doing on there or some kind of schizophrenic lawyer who can, on one hand be Amber Frey's lawyer and then 30 seconds later on the same program saying this is my personal opinion.

BUCKLEY: Judge Al Girolami ultimately ruled that Allred was not covered by the gag, but he ruled that District Attorney James Brazelton is and that there was probable cause to at least hold a contempt hearing after the trial concerning comments the D.A. made to the "Modesto Bee" in which he decried defense theories as "phony baloney stuff."

For Geragos, the ruling represented a partial victory. For Allred, her ruling was the green light to step back into a familiar place in front of the cameras outside of the courtroom.

GLORIA ALLRED, AMBER FREY'S ATTORNEY: And it was a complete victory for us because I am not going to be covered by this new gag order or protective order and further there is not going to be any hearing to hold me in contempt. In plain English, I can keep speaking, and I will.


BUCKLEY: And yet to be resolved is whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom for the preliminary hearing now set for September 9, the District Attorney's Office weighing in against those cameras.

Today, in papers that were filed late in the day, Paula, the district attorney writing: "It has reached the point where a nationwide audience has become addicted to these proceedings as if they were a daytime serial. It is time to cancel the program" -- Paula.

ZAHN: Frank Buckley, thanks so much.

We're going to talk a little more about today's developments in the Peterson case. I'm joined by Steve Cohen. He is a former federal prosecutor. Thanks so much for being with us tonight.

Let's talk about a couple things. Let's go back to this gag order now being lifted on Gloria Allred. Is this an equal playing field?

STEVE COHEN, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I mean it's an odd situation. I can't think of a situation in which a lawyer who is participating in a case also wants to be a legal commentator. In life you make choices and usually one of the choices is what role are you going to play in a criminal proceeding?

Gloria Allred apparently has persuaded the judge that she can be two things. She can be a talking head presumably on a number of talk shows and she can also represent a witness. Legally, I don't think that there is anything to criticize the judge about; however, it's a very odd situation and it's one that you wonder why a lawyer would want to do that to themselves.

ZAHN: Honest is one thing but does it affect Scott Peterson's ability to get a fair trial? COHEN: I don't think it's going to affect Scott Peterson's chance to get a fair trial. There is already so much media attention that having one more person who happens to represent a witness being on the air I don't think is going to make a hoot of difference. But, when this whole thing pans out it strikes me that should he be convicted he certainly is going to have an argument that all of it tainted his ability to get a fair trial.

ZAHN: What do you think is the significance of the postponement of the preliminary hearing? How meaningful is this to either side?

COHEN: Well, it's clear the prosecution isn't ready to go forward and it sounded as it, to listen to what went on in court, that both welcomed the notion of having additional time.

What is particularly odd though that came out was the district attorney's comment about all of it. He's going forward with the preliminary hearing. He wants it to happen in open court and one of the reasons why he has claimed is because he wants to "open some eyes" more of his attempts to get rid of what he once characterized as the "phony baloney stuff."

ZAHN: You find that self serving, that's the problem you have with that?

COHEN: It's not just self serving. I mean to me, as a prosecutor, the audience is the 12 jurors, the judge. It's not the people out there and it's just a very curious thing that somebody would be conducting himself in public office that way.

ZAHN: A final point on the judge ruling today that the prosecution had to turn over 176 newly-discovered wiretaps to the defense.

COHEN: Yes. What's most amazing about this is that there could be newly-discovered wiretaps. When you get authorization to wiretap somebody the notion is you keep track of what you're taping, what is appropriate and then you turn it over. Who knows what's on there?

No one even seems to have listened to some of this stuff and there may be some surprises but to me, again, the most unusual thing about that is that you're in a situation where suddenly these things are materialized and who knows what else will come out?

ZAHN: Would you want to be prosecuting this case?

COHEN: You know it's a difficult case. It's a high profile case but you hope in any situation like that if you had the opportunity you'd take it and you'd conduct it differently.

ZAHN: Answering that one like a real lawyer tonight, Steve Cohen.

COHEN: That's what I get paid for.


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