Cosby’s legal team pressuring judge to quit, delay retrial

Bill Cosby
The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bill Cosby’s lawyers are expected to make a last-ditch effort on Thursday to postpone the comedian’s sexual assault retrial by pressuring the judge to step aside after losing their bid to overturn his ruling allowing up to five additional accusers to testify.

The defense first demanded Judge Steven O’Neill recuse himself last week, arguing in court papers that he could be seen as biased because his wife is a social worker who has described herself as an “advocate for assault victims.”

Now the retooled defense team, led by former Michael Jackson lawyer Tom Mesereau, is going face-to-face with O’Neill in his suburban Philadelphia courtroom at a final pretrial hearing before the start of jury selection on Monday.

The 80-year-old Cosby has pleaded not guilty to charges he drugged and molested former Temple University athletics administrator Andrea Constand at his home in 2004.

O’Neill presided over Cosby’s first trial, which ended in a hung jury last year. The retrial could be delayed indefinitely if he bows out.

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 said that last year she gave money to a group linked to an organization that is planning a protest outside the retrial.

As Cosby’s lawyers are battling with O’Neill, they also are counting on him to make critical rulings to bolster their defense that Constand is a money-grubbing liar.

Cosby’s lawyers want permission to call a witness who says Constand told her that she was not assaulted but could make up allegations to sue and get money, and they want jurors to hear how much Cosby paid her in a 2006 civil settlement.

They also are still fighting O’Neill’s ruling allowing as many as five additional accusers to testify after he allowed just one to take the stand at Cosby’s first trial.

Pennsylvania’s Superior Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal over O’Neill decision not to let Cosby’s lawyers immediately challenge his ruling in a higher court.

Documents made public showed that prosecutors have chosen model Janice Dickinson as one of the women they plan to have testify. She says Cosby drugged and raped her in Lake Tahoe in 1982.

Prosecutors, who have decried the defense attacks on O’Neill as a “thinly veiled attempt to delay and pollute the jury pool,” are looking for the judge to keep out talk of a prior investigation into Constand’s allegations and a recent political race where putting Cosby behind bars was at issue.

Prosecutors say former District Attorney Bruce Castor’s stated reasoning that he did not charge Cosby in 2005 because the case was weak and he wanted him to speak freely in a civil deposition is irrelevant to the case at hand.

They say Castor’s unsuccessful campaign against current DA Kevin Steele in 2015 and his ongoing legal skirmish with Constand also are irrelevant.

Steele’s predecessor, Risa Vetri Ferman, reopened the investigation in 2015 after The Associated Press fought to unseal parts of Cosby’s deposition testimony — including lurid passages about him giving drugs to women he wanted to have sex with. Cosby was charged shortly before the statute of limitations was set to expire.

The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand and Dickinson have done.

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