Archive » June 26, 2008
By Robert Perry, Staff Writer
Battery charges against Sam Cohen dismissed
Misdemeanor assault charges against attorney Sam Cohen, an advocate for the Chumash Casino, were abruptly dismissed June 24 in Santa Maria on a motion by the district attorney’s office. His trial was in its second day.
Eleven jurors were already selected and the proceedings were scheduled to pick a 12th juror and two alternates. But when Superior Court Judge James Rigali denied the DA’s motion to continue the trial because a key prosecution witness was “unavailable,” Deputy DA Heather Sutton moved to dismiss and that motion was granted.
“We made every attempt to have the witness properly served, but the agency that was assisting us was unable to complete that task,” Sutton said in an e-mail to the Valley Journal after the proceedings. “We tried up until we dismissed it to accomplish it.”
Cohen was accused of battering his wife, Trina, at an event at the casino on Dec. 12, 2007. Sheriff’s deputies initially responded to a domestic violence call. Officials believed the Cohens clashed over a social issue at an anniversary party for Chumash magazine. At the time, both were arrested.
Deputies subsequently reported Trina Cohen was taken into custody on suspicion of being drunk in public and Sam Cohen was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.
“The DA’s office has an ethical obligation to prosecute cases that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. We cannot ethically pursue a case if we cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” Sutton said.
Lompoc attorney Gary Dunlap, who represented Sam Cohen, objected to a continuance of the trial June 24.
He said a casino security camera videotape of the incident would have shown that the injuries to Trina Cohen were caused by an accidental fall. Dunlap added he believed the prosecution could not find any witnesses to testify there was any physical confrontation between the couple.
Cohen, who from time to time functions as a lobbyist for the casino, never appeared in court. He was in Washington, D.C., on business, according to Dunlap. The attorney did not comment on his client’s absence from the start of the trial, which is considered unusual.
Sutton said “A misdemeanor defendant legally does not have to be personally present.”
The missing witness is alleged to live in Orange County. The witness was one of nine whom the DA indicated would be called had the trial continued.
“We cannot legally re-file charges on a misdemeanor because a witness is not available,” Sutton said.