Judge issues warrant for former immigration attorney accused of faking COVID results to avoid court

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A judge has issued an arrest warrant for former immigration attorney Emily Cohen after prosecutors presented evidence that Cohen had fabricated COVID-19 test results to avoid appearing in person ahead of her scheduled retrial on theft counts.

Cohen was originally found guilty on 13 of 21 theft counts following a 2014 trial after prosecutors said she collected more than $41,000 in combined fees from seven immigrant families, then dropped out of contact without producing the visas and work permits she had promised her clients.

But the Colorado Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in 2018, ruling the trial judge in the case erred by allowing prosecutors to introduce complaints against Cohen filed with the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel, the state agency that collects and rules on ethics complaints filed against attorneys.

The Boulder District Attorney’s Office elected to retry the case, and Cohen was set for a 10-day retrial on eleven felony theft counts starting Dec. 6.

But Cohen failed to appear in person for a pre-trial conference Tuesday, instead appearing virtually after filing a motion saying she had tested positive for the coronavirus in Iowa.

Boulder District Judge Andrew Hartman had issued a ruling ordering Cohen to appear in person unless she could produce a positive test result following at least one other instance in which she failed to appear for an in-person hearing while claiming she had COVID-19.

Prosecutors said Cohen had previously submitted letters from a University of Iowa clinic in July claiming she had COVID symptoms, and Cohen again produced a letter from a doctor on Monday saying she had tested positive.

But Boulder Deputy District Attorney Anne Kelly said prosecutors were “skeptical” of the letter, and checked with the University of Iowa. Kelly said the doctor cited in the letter Cohen submitted told prosecutors she had not written any such letter and that the one sent to the court was invalid.

“It seems that we have evidence that Ms. Cohen has attempted to defraud the court,” Kelly said.

Cohen, who had dropped out of the virtual courtroom earlier in the hearing, dropped off the hearing again shortly after Kelly presented the letters and never logged back in to the virtual courtroom.

She did not address the letters during the time she was online other than to object because she could not see the documents Kelly was presenting to Hartman.

But on her personal Twitter page following the hearing, Cohen claimed she was “kicked off” of the virtual hearing and not allowed back in.

She also tweeted “@DABoulder20th says I’m lying about a letter written by my doctor because they asked the hospital to confirm that the doctor wrote it, and the hospital says was the resident. This means I’m lying?” followed by what appeared to be a nauseated emoji.

Hartman did pause the proceedings both times Cohen was no longer online to try and get her back into the virtual hearing.

But when Cohen did not log back on the second time, Hartman issued a warrant for Cohen’s arrest, noting his prior order and evidence that Cohen had “fabricated” documents. He noted she would be subject to COVID-19 protocols in the Boulder County Jail if she tested positive.

“The needs of justice far outweigh the assertions of the defendant, especially based upon the credible evidence that she has committed fraud upon the court,” Hartman said.

The warrant carries a bond of $90,000 with nationwide extradition.

Prosecutors said they hope to keep the Dec. 6 trial date on the calendar, but set a status conference for Nov. 23 to update the court on the status of Cohen’s arrest and possible extradition.

Cohen is representing herself and Hartman denied a motion by Cohen to dismiss the case because she does not have an attorney, noting that the court made an “extensive” effort to find Cohen advisory counsel only for Cohen to fire them.

In an August minute order, Hartman noted Cohen has gone through numerous court-appointed attorneys after the initial attorney on her case withdrew and “has a long history of causing significant conflicts with her prior lawyers.”

“Defendant stated she did not wish to represent herself and requested the Court appoint new counsel,” Hartman wrote in the August order. “The Court finds Defendant’s request futile and/or a dilatory tactic based on her history of causing conflicts with court appointed counsel, and made in bad faith. The Defendant made numerous misrepresentations to the Court about her conflicts with past counsel.”

Hartman at Tuesday’s hearing also denied another motion by Cohen to dismiss the case due to speedy trial violations, ruling that the deadline had been extended.

Hartman denied a motion by prosecutors to limit Cohen’s social media postings about the case, particularly those that referenced the identity and character of named victims in the case.

Kelly acknowledged the posts have not gotten wide traction and none of the victims had filed complaints. Hartman said any issues the posts created for the potential jury pool could be addressed during voir dire and did not warrant limiting Cohen’s First Amendment rights.

Cohen was arrested in 2014 after seven families alleged she agreed to represent them in various immigration cases, collected more than $41,000 in combined fees and then dropped out of contact without producing any of the visas or work permits she promised to help them obtain.

After her arrest, numerous other clients came forward to report similar instances of paying Cohen for services they never received, and prosecutors originally brought 54 charges against her before electing to drop 33 of them.

Cohen, who was later disbarred, was sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 and was on probation when the conviction was overturned.

Cohen also failed to appear twice for that sentencing hearing, instead checking herself into a mental health facility and filing a competency motion.