Image: Neil Cohen during arraignment
Patti Sapone  /  AP
Former state Assemblyman Neil Cohen, left, was arraigned on charges of child pornography at the Mercer County courthouse in Trenton, N.J., on Tuesday.
updated 3/10/2009 7:19:42 PM ET 2009-03-10T23:19:42

A former New Jersey lawmaker who once championed bills aimed at fighting child pornography pleaded not guilty Tuesday to child porn and official misconduct charges in his first public appearance since the state began investigating him in July.

A judge determined Neil Cohen is not a flight risk, so he can remain free without bail — with restrictions. He's not allowed to "loiter or linger" around playgrounds or schools, have unsupervised contact with children under 16 or use the Internet for purposes other than business.

A state prosecutor said Cohen told investigators he had viewed child porn, but he rejected a plea bargain offer.

Cohen, a 58-year-old Democrat from Roselle, sat silently through his arraignment in Superior Court and allowed his lawyer to enter the not guilty plea for him.

Cohen, who was elected to the Assembly nine times, once sponsored a law creating a hot line to report child pornography and other Internet crimes.

He resigned from office in July and checked into a psychiatric hospital after word got out that he was under investigation for child pornography. Other lawmakers tipped off officials about images that allegedly show underage girls engaged in sexual acts.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony Picione said Cohen admitted the images were his and said he had viewed them on the computer in his law office in Montclair and in his district legislative office in Union Township. Computers from both locations were seized.

His lawyer, Mark Tuohey, said Cohen is now receiving mental health treatment "probably for a lifetime."

Indicted on three counts
A grand jury indicted him in December on two counts of child pornography and one count of official misconduct. If convicted on all charges, Cohen could receive up to 30 years in prison.

Picione told Judge Gerald Council on Tuesday that the state had offered Cohen a plea deal that would have called for five to seven years in prison, forfeiture of his state pension and registering as a sex offender.

Tuohey said he rejected that offer "for obvious reasons." He would not elaborate after the hearing.

Tuohey told the judge to expect a motion accusing the state of "overcharging" crimes in what is really a simple possession case.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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