Cosby judge rejects demand to step aside over wife's work
Michael R. Sisak, Associated Press | 3/29/2018, 1:21 p.m.
NORRISTOWN, Pa. — The judge in Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial rejected demands Thursday from the comedian's defense lawyers that he step aside because his wife is a social worker and advocate for assault victims.
Judge Steven O'Neill said at a pretrial hearing that he's "not biased or prejudiced" by his wife's work and that the assertion that he shares the same views as his wife or has let his rulings be influenced by her profession "is faulty, plain and simple."
Cosby's lawyers are in court Thursday in suburban Philadelphia making a last-ditch effort to postpone the comedian's sexual assault retrial after losing their bid to overturn O'Neill's ruling allowing up to five additional accusers to testify.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday, but Cosby's lawyers could appeal that decision to the state Supreme Court.
The 80-year-old Cosby faces charges that he drugged and molested former Temple University athletics administrator Andrea Constand at his home in 2004.
As Cosby's lawyers are battling with O'Neill, who also oversaw his first trial, they also are counting on him to make critical rulings to bolster their defense that Constand is a money-grubbing liar.
The judge's wife, Deborah O'Neill, is a psychotherapist at the University of Pennsylvania and coordinates a team that cares and advocates for student sexual assault victims. Cosby's lawyers emphasized their concern over a $100 donation made in Deborah O'Neill's name to an organization that gave money to a group planning protests outside Cosby's retrial.
O'Neill 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.
"How are my wife's independent views of an independent woman connected to me?" O'Neill said. "She's an independent woman and has the right to be involved in anything that she believes in."
O'Neill said Thursday that Cosby's old lawyers raised the prospect of having him step aside in December 2016, but never followed through. He added that he could've rejected the recusal request simply because Cosby's lawyers waited too long to ask.
He said they were aware of Deborah O'Neill's work as far back as December 2016, but that they waited until getting several adverse rulings just before retrial to raise it as an issue.
O'Neill spoke glowingly about his wife and said it was difficult to have her accomplishments "trivialized" in a legal motion. He said Cosby's lawyers had presented an antiquated view of marriage where spouses must agree on everything.
"What we do not share are unified views," O'Neill said, adding that his wife's views, "do not influence me one iota."
The defense request for the judge to step down was just one of the issues being argued during the pretrial hearing Thursday. Cosby's lawyers also want the judge 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.
Lawyer Becky James argued that Marguerite Jackson's testimony that 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.
Assistant District Attorney Kristen Fedden said that they doubt the discussion happened and Constand's lawyer, Dolores Troiani, has said that Jackson is "not telling the truth."
Prosecutors say the theory that Constand wanted to set up Cosby is undermined by the comedian's testimony in a 2005 deposition that she only visited his home when invited and that he gave her pills without her asking for them.
O'Neill blocked Jackson from testifying at the first trial because he said her testimony would be hearsay and prosecutors want him to do the same for the retrial.
The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done. -- (AP)