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Longtime Detroit federal court Judge Avern Cohn dies

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
Former U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn

Avern Cohn, a retired federal judge in Detroit, who heard cases into his 90s, has died at age 97.

The court said Cohn died Friday after a brief illness.

Cohn was nominated by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and served for 40 years until stepping down in 2019.

“You better know what you’re doing when you appear before Avern Cohn,” Detroit criminal defense attorney David Steingold told Bridge Michigan in 2013. “He can be hard on you, but he’s one of the smartest, analytical and compassionate judges on the bench.”

In 2010, Cohn presided over the case of Monica Conyers, a Detroit City Council member who was convicted of taking bribes to support a sludge-hauling contractor.

In 2019, he refused to send a group of Yemeni men to prison for failing to register as a money-transfer business. They had sent millions of dollars to their war-torn native country.

The judge noted that Yemen’s financial system was a mess and its residents desperately need help.

“Only people without compassion” would object to the light sentences, Cohn told The Associated Press.

Before becoming a judge, Cohn was chairman of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission in the 1970s and also served on the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, a civilian oversight panel.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin and his father, former U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, both Democrats, are cousins of Cohn whose districts fall in the area served by Cohn's District Court for Eastern Michigan. They issued a joint statement describing Cohn as “a giant in public life.”

“He had a giant voice, literally. The breadth of his knowledge of the issues of the day, of history, of the law was overwhelming. His curiosity gobbled up topics of an astonishing variety," they said.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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