Civil rights lawyer Richard Cohen has been named president and chief executive officer of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The announcement was made today by Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr., who founded the Center in 1971.
"Richard has a rare combination of intellect and passion," said Levin, who has been the Center's president and CEO for the past seven years. "We have tremendous confidence in his ability to lead the Center in the 21st century."
The Center's board of directors chose Cohen as top executive after Levin decided to step down from the presidency. Levin will remain with the Center as a senior advisor and as a member of its board of directors. Dees will continue as its chief trial counsel.
A graduate of Columbia University and the University of Virginia School of Law, Cohen came to the Center in 1986 as its legal director. With his guidance, the Center won a series of landmark lawsuits against some of the nation's major hate groups.
He also successfully litigated a wide variety of important civil rights actions — defending the rights of prisoners to be treated humanely, working for equal educational opportunities for all children, and bringing down the Confederate battle flag from the top of the Alabama State Capitol.
In 1997, the national legal magazine The American Lawyer selected Cohen as one of 45 public sector lawyers "whose vision and commitment are changing lives." In 1999, he was a finalist for the national Trial Lawyer of the Year Award for his work on Macedonia Baptist Church v. Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a lawsuit that ended with a record $37.8 million judgment against a Klan group for its role in the burning of a South Carolina church.
In recent years, Cohen has served as the Center's vice president for programs, devoting all of his time to oversight of the Center's programmatic activities, including its tolerance education projects.
"Joe and Morris have created a dynamic organization that has been a force for justice and fairness in this country," Cohen said. "With the dedicated staff at the Center, I hope we can build on their long list of accomplishments."