NORRISTOWN—Two days of hearings in the Bill Cosby retrial got off to a rough start, as the judge chastised defense attorneys for the way they’ve filed paperwork with the court.
Judge Steven O’Neill, who has come under publicly scrutiny this week for an alleged and decades-old extra-marital affair, scolded Cosby’s team for filing motions and briefs when the court is closed and for making them available in the public domain before a clerk could certify them.
Tensions mounted as Cosby’s lead attorney Tom Mesereau and co-counsel asked that O’Neill recuse himself.
“You’ve made numerous rulings and decisions in which we believe have the appearance of bias,” Mesereau said.
Prosecutors objected to O’Neill’s recusal and after a brief break, the judge said he would stay on the bench for the trial, which will last for more than a month.
At the heart of Mesereau’s argument was also O’Neill’s wife, Deborah O’Neill, whom the defense alleged contributed through her employer to a woman’s organization that plans to protest against Cosby in front of the Montgomery County Courthouse next month.
“I am not biased or prejudiced by my wife’s work and the assertion that I share the same views as my wife or that I’ve let my rulings be influenced by her profession is faulty, plain and simple,” O’Neill said. “We are two separate individuals.”
Deborah O’Neill is a psychotherapist at the University of Pennsylvania and coordinates a team that cares and advocates for student sexual assault victims.
Through the university, a $100 donation was made in Dr. O’Neill’s name to the woman’s group.
The judge said the donation was made 13 months ago by the university department where his wife works and that it wasn’t a personal donation using her own money or their joint assets.
The Black Press became the subject of courtroom proceedings when O’Neill cited a December 2016 article posted to BlackPressUSA.com about his alleged biases against Cosby.
The article was written by freelance journalist Kia Soto, who also runs the celebrity website, Tattle Tailzz.
The article was the first to call into question Dr. O’Neill’s ties to women’s groups that could compromise the judge’s impartiality.
Soto citied Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2 section B which says, “Judges should not allow their family, social, or other relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment. They should not lend the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others; nor should they convey or knowingly permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. Judges should not testify voluntarily as a character witness.”
O’Neill said Cosby’s former attorney, Brian McMonagle, called for a special hearing presumably then to ask for his recusal, but McMonagle never followed up and the issue lay dormant until this week.
Cosby’s lawyers have also requested that former District Attorney Bruce Castor’s lawsuit against Andrea Constand be used as evidence in the case.
Cosby, 80, faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault stemming from a 2004 incident with Constand, who has sued the former district attorney for defamation. Castor, in turn, has sued Constand.
Cosby’s team believes the lawsuits reveal motive and the inconsistencies in Constand’s statements that led Castor to decline prosecution of Cosby more than a decade ago.
The lawyers also argued to allow jurors to hear how much Cosby paid her in a 2006 civil settlement and to hear from a woman who says Constand talked about making up allegations, so she could sue and get money.
That dovetailed with the defense’s request to admit former Constand friend Marguerite Jackson’s testimony in which she said Constand talked about wanting to set up a high-profile person after seeing a television news report about a celebrity accused of violating women, speaks to her state of mind before she went to police with allegations Cosby drugged and molested her in 2004.
Prosecutors said that would be hearsay.
Jury selection is set to begin on Monday, April 2 with the trial sometime afterward.