Prior Restraint

Federal Judge Orders Cohen’s Release, Says He Was Punished For Planned Book

Michael Cohen, the former lawyer for U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives back at home after being released from prison during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, New York, U.S., May 21, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Update 7/30/2020: The Department of Justice says it will no longer be pursuing a gag order on Michael Cohen, freeing him to move ahead with plans to publish his book before the November election. 

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has ordered Michael Cohen to be released from prison after government officials tried to pressure him into signing an agreement that would relinquish his First Amendment rights.

Previous story: ACLU Petition Says Cohen Imprisoned in Retaliation for Planned Book About Trump

“I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory and its retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others,” U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said during a teleconference on July 23rd.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to multiple federal crimes, was sent to prison in May 2019. One year later, Cohen was released into home confinement due to coronavirus concerns. While on furlough, Cohen spoke openly about wanting to publish a tell-all book on Trump. The book allegedly describes a number of anti-Semitic and racist comments the President made about high-profile leaders.

According to CNN, a prison administrator contacted Cohen after a New York Post photographer captured him eating at a restaurant and told him that while he had not violated his release, “it would be best if [he] remained at home to avoid any further media scrutiny or further upsetting ‘Washington’.”

After that call, Cohen went with one of his lawyers, Jeffrey Levine, to a federal courthouse where he was asked to sign a form that asked him to stop posting on social media as a condition of his release. The agreement also would have barred him from speaking to the media and publishing his book. 

When Cohen refused to sign the agreement, he was taken into custody and placed in solitary confinement. Together with the American Civil Liberties Union, Cohen’s lawyers filed a petition on July 20th demanding his release on First Amendment grounds.

According to Courthouse News, Hellerstein plans to issue a written ruling explaining his decision.

“I’ve never seen such a clause in 21 years of being a judge,” Hellerstein said during the teleconference on Thursday.

Courthouse News