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Aisenbergs' lawyer calls for secrecy

Attorney Barry Cohen opposes the release of papers on why investigators suspected the couple in their infant daughter's disappearance.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 18, 1999


TAMPA -- The lawyer for Steven and Marlene Aisenberg argued Friday that the basis for investigators' suspicions about the couple should remain secret and that he was fighting to "expose the evil in this case."

Barry Cohen attacked the federal government during a hearing on a newspaper's motion to unseal court records in the case. The Tampa Tribune is seeking the affidavits filed by investigators in support of their request for court permission to put listening devices in the Aisenbergs' home shortly after they reported the disappearance of their infant daughter Sabrina.

Chief Hillsborough Circuit Judge F. Dennis Alvarez said it would be at least a week before he rules on the newspaper's motion.

In what appeared to be a preview of his defense for the Aisenbergs against federal charges of obstructing justice in the case, Cohen tried to read into the record excerpts from a 1986 state court opinion on prosecutors' abuse of the grand jury system. The opinion criticized Stephen M. Kunz, one of the prosecutors assigned to the case.

Another federal prosecutor, Rachelle DesVaux Bedke, objected to what she termed Cohen's irrelevant and "preposterous assertions of government misconduct." The judge agreed and told Cohen to drop that line of argument.

Objecting to the Tribune's motion were attorneys representing State Attorney Harry Lee Coe, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Hillsborough Sheriff Cal Henderson. All said such a release would jeopardize continuing investigations, like the one against the Aisenbergs.

Bedke, the federal prosecutor, argued that any release of eavesdropping papers is premature, because the Aisenbergs have not even returned to Florida from their new home in Maryland to be arraigned on the federal charges. The couple faces charges of conspiracy and false statements for allegedly lying to investigators about Sabrina's disappearance in November 1997. According to the indictment, the listening device recorded the Aisenbergs as they discussed Steven's responsibility for his daughter's death, and Marlene's involvement in a coverup.

While saying he wants the public to have a full account at some point, Cohen said he, too, was opposed to the release of the eavesdropping papers because they might contain damaging material about his clients, and he would at present have no forum in which to respond.

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