"… a tenacious courtroom fighter with an instinct for the jugular and a keen eye for incongruity."

Philadelphia Magazine

Breaking the Mob

Source: by and

“I'd never met Ferber's lawyer, Dennis Cogan, but I had seen him and heard a great deal about him. With his unruly mop of dark brown hair and his boyish clean-cut features, Cogan looked to be no more than in his late twenties, ten years younger than his real age. He had, I'd heard, a charming courtroom manner which, along with his looks, made jurics like and root for him, which meant they voted against the forces of good, namely us in the police and the DA's office. But it wasn't only at trial that Cogan showed his wares. He apparently had an extraordinary knowledge of the law that let him come up with technicalities that other attorneys would never think of. According to some grousing in the Department, he put more people back on the streets than all the other criminal defense lawyers in the city combined. That was a hyperbole, but it indicated the fear and loathing with which he was regarded. The word among detectives was: Don't let him interview you if you can possibly avoid it: your inch will become his yard. (I think it was only after my first contact with him that I learned he'd been a prosecutor himself, attached to the homicide unit of the DA's office, at which time he was admired for the same abilities that now made him the enemy.) Whatever he was, he wasn't a mob attorney. I'd have known if he was, and that had been the case, upon hearing his name I would have immediately dropped all interest in Ferber, because I would have assumed the Mafia was paying his legal fees, proof of his guilt. When I called Cogan to tell him I'd like to interview his client, I didn't have much expectation of a favorable response.

Even if he wasn't one of those hotshot defense counsel types—you can see them every day in City Hall in their three-piece suits, shooting their cuffs—he had to be aware of the police antagonism toward him, and the chances were he reciprocate it. But I didn't get that impression. Instead, I was listening to a voice streaked with the kind of concern which is not readily simulated, a thrust in it of real anguish. He had not been Ferber's original lawyer, he told me, but had been hired by his family after Ferber was convicted to see if he could discover technical errors in the proceedings that could become the basis for a new trial. He had found several such issues, and at the beginning these had been his only concern, he said. However, as he began to study the evidence further and did some detective work of his own, he had become convinced that Ferber was innocent. Fom the moment of that realization onward, the case became a consuming passion for Cogan. (His secretary once counted up the time she new he had put into defending Ferber and discovered his earnings on the case were 63c an hour.) Despite the new evidence he had discovered, Cogan went on (and here was the reason for his anguish), he feared he was going to lose the posttrial motions. The judge, who'd also presided at the trial, was balding Robert A. Latrone. He had a reputation as a strong law-and-order type—we in the police loved him—and, Cogan believed, could never be swayed to overturn a guilty verdict. For that reason, he was ready to reach out to whoever he thought might help. He gave me a virtual free hand. You can bring Ferber down, he said: “I'll either be there or not; it's up to you; you can ask him anything you want”. Even under the circumstances it was a remarkable offer.

Defense attorneys, in my experience, rarely if ever turn to people who have arrested their client, much less agree to be absent when the client is being interrogated by them. That was the first of several phone calls between Cogan and me, and during one of early ones, he sprang a surprise on me. There was, he said, a problem with an eyewitness sketch used against Ferber at his trial. The Homicide Bureau, for which I worked, had fabricated it, he charged, in effect railroading Ferber to the electric chair. His was as serious an accusation against the police as can be made, as he must have been aware. At the moment, I assumed—rightly, I think—that he was telling me this in order to test me. If knowing that he was charging my fellow officers with misconduct was going to make me back off, he wanted to know it; I'd almost certainly find out eventually anyway, as the allegation was part of the posttrial heraing record. But I also now think Cogan was acting in accordance with his character, as I learned it to be. In all my dealings with him, he acted with absolute integrity. With him you need no bond, his word will do; he never lies. He was going to be open with me, and if I was open in return with him, a relationship of trust was possible. So he was testing my openness, too. I said: Dennis, I'm going to look at the evidence but that's all I'm going to do. I'm not going to investigate the investigators. That would be a certain way to grind everything to a halt right away.”

… a tenacious courtroom fighter with an instinct for the jugular and a keen eye for incongruity.

—Philadelphia Magazine

Unique and talented, calm
yet powerful, Dennis is the lawyer who's always thinking outside the box.

—Felicia Sarner, attorney

There are some who are good at law, others who are good at trial.
Dennis is simply the best that I've ever seen in my 35 years in court.

—Tom Bello, attorney