PORTLAND, Maine — Prosecutors are seeking to put a prominent defense lawyer behind bars after they say he broke the terms of a plea agreement that threw out a domestic violence assault charge.
Androscoggin County District Attorney Andrew Matulis on Friday recommended that Superior Court Justice Roland Cole sentence Philip Cohen, 45, of Waldoboro to six months in jail.
But defense attorney Walter McKee, representing Cohen, called the proposed six-month sentence “incredibly excessive” for the two misdemeanor charges his client was convicted of, and he suggested in court that Cohen was as much the victim of a mutually destructive relationship as the woman he’s accused of assaulting.
Cole will hand down a sentence in the case during a hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 15.
“If there’s one thing I think we all can agree on in this courtroom, it’s that Mr. Cohen and [the alleged victim] are not a good combination,” McKee said during the six-hour hearing on Friday in Portland. “But that’s not a crime.”
The jail term recommendation came after Cole agreed with Matulis that Cohen had violated the terms of a previous plea deal by assaulting a woman at a cabin in Jefferson on July 12, less than 24 hours after agreeing to the plea deal that avoided jail time for a previous altercation with the same victim.
The alleged victim testified in court on Friday that, during a heated argument at the camp, Cohen pinned her down on a bed and pressed his fist against her mouth with enough force to make her lip bleed.
That account was corroborated by a prosecution witness, a 12-year-old friend of the victim’s daughter who was staying at the camp and allegedly heard the commotion from a tent outside. The witness told the court, among other things, that she entered the cabin after the altercation and saw the alleged victim’s lip swollen and bloody.
But under cross examination by McKee, the victim admitted she had been drinking heavily and snorting the drug Adderall on the night in question, and that she had repeatedly reached out to Cohen — including electronically sending him love songs and erotic images — in the months after the first alleged assault occurred.
Cohen testified in court that he did not assault the woman on the night in question. He said he told her their relationship was over, and she became so angry she grabbed his arms hard enough to leave bruising.
McKee called Cohen’s ex-wife and a work colleague as witnesses. Both said they saw the bruising on his arm soon after the altercation and noted that the alleged victim did not have a visibly injured lip when she was interviewed by a police detective about the incident 36 hours afterward.
“The only physical contact that night was, as I was leaving, her grabbing me,” Cohen told the court. “I hadn’t done anything wrong, and if she was going to call and tell [the police] that I had, she would be lying.”
But just as McKee had argued there are no pictures or any other hard evidence of the woman’s bloody lip, Matulis said there’s no proof of Cohen’s bruised arm.
“You’re a defense attorney? And you say, ‘Of course not,’ you didn’t take photographs of the injuries you said you sustained?” the prosecutor asked Cohen under cross examination.
“Given how this case has gone, I was pretty sure who was going to get in trouble no matter what the pictures showed,” Cohen responded.
Both Cohen and the alleged victim admitted in court to exchanging jealous text messages and emails with each other — accusing one another of sleeping with other people — during a several-month period earlier this year in which Cohen was barred by bail conditions from having any contact with her.
Cohen does not face any new charges resulting from the July 12 incident.
He was arrested in Waldoboro in November 2013 and charged with domestic violence assault. In December, he was arrested again and charged with disorderly conduct and violation of bail conditions after he allegedly phoned and sent text messages to the same victim.
On July 11, Cohen apparently avoided jail time when Cole accepted a plea agreement in which Cohen pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and violation of conditions of release. In exchange, Cole granted Cohen a deferred disposition, meaning that if Cohen complied with a number of conditions for one year, the domestic violence charge would be dismissed.
However, on Friday, Cole agreed with Matulis that a preponderance of the evidence suggested Cohen assaulted the victim again on July 12, breaking the plea deal and overturning the deferred disposition.
Cohen’s hearing on Friday morning took place in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court in Portland, in part, because several judges and district attorneys in other parts of the state have histories with the high-profile defender and recused themselves.
BDN staff reporter Beth Brogan contributed to this report.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and would like to talk with an advocate, call 866-834-4357, TRS 800-787-3224. This free, confidential service is available 24/7 and is accessible from anywhere in Maine.