Carrie H. Cohen represents former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek before State Supreme Court Judge Donald F. Cerio Jr. in Buffalo on Wednesday.
Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

Carrie H. Cohen made her legal reputation prosecuting public corruption and building cases against people in high places who abused their positions.

As an assistant U.S. attorney, she led the criminal case against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

While in the state Attorney General’s Office, she prosecuted former State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi, who used state employees to conduct personal business.

Now, she is on the other side of the table, as a defense attorney. And she is defending John A. Michalek, who pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony charges of bribery and filing a false instrument.

Michalek, who resigned as State Supreme Court justice while pleading guilty, hired Cohen to represent him not long after she left the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She became a partner in the Morrison & Foerster law firm, which specializes in cases involving white-collar crime and securities litigation.

Cohen negotiated Michalek’s plea agreement, which includes the stipulation that the state Attorney General’s Office will make no sentencing recommendation in the case if Michalek cooperates with its investigation into public corruption. At the center of the state probe is political operative G. Steven Pigeon, who is expected in court Thursday morning on other charges.

Cohen, 47, returned to private practice in May after 17 years in the public sector. The move could prove lucrative for her and her family. She and her husband, Sports Illustrated golf writer Rick Lipsey, have four children.

Salaries for assistant U.S. attorneys don’t rise much above $200,000, even for those with experience who work in high-profile offices, according to the Justice Department.

Annual profits for partners at Morrison & Foerster were between $1.2 million and $1.4 million in 2011, the most recent figures available, according to figures crunched by the website lawfirmstats.com.

By any measure, Cohen has paid her dues. After getting her B.A. at Cornell University (where she met her future husband and played lacrosse), she earned her law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Following a few years in private practice, she began her career as a prosecutor in 1999 in the Civil Rights Bureau of the AG’s Office and went on to become chief of the AG’s Public Integrity Unit of its Criminal Division.

In 2007, she went to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where she prosecuted the case against Silver, among many others.

The Silver case garnered extra attention for Cohen. In a profile for “The American Lawyer,” Vivia Chen described her as a workaholic who still managed to make time for her family, “a bit of a wisecracker who exudes constant energy.”

Cohen also is immersed in supporting women in the legal profession and is one of the lawyers in the Advisory Group to the New York Federal-State Judicial Council, which promotes communication and education for state and federal judges. She is a member of the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, working to help women in law in Latin America. She also chairs the board of a New York City public mural project called CITYarts Inc., which brings children together with professional artists.

Cohen is expected back in State Supreme Court here on Sept. 21, when Michalek is due to be sentenced.

email: mmiller@buffnews.com

Click here to see the comments. Add yours now!