NORRISTOWN, Pa. – The judge in Bill Cosby’s retrial rejected demands from the comedian’s defence lawyers to step aside during a Thursday hearing in which they made clear they plan to attack his accuser as a greedy liar who falsely accused him of sexually assaulting her to collect a payoff.
Judge Steven O’Neill shot down what amounted to a last-ditch effort to postpone the trial by defence lawyers who lost their bid to overturn his ruling allowing up to five additional accusers to testify against Cosby.
Lawyers argued the judge should remove himself because his wife is a social worker and advocate for assault victims, pointing to a $100 donation made in her name to an organization that gave money to a group planning a protest outside the retrial.
The judge said the donation was made 13 months ago by the department where his wife works at the University of Pennsylvania and he’s “not biased or prejudiced” by her work.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday as the 80-year-old Cosby faces charges he drugged and molested former Temple University athletics administrator Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.
While Cosby’s lawyers sparred with the judge in court Thursday, they also are counting on him to make critical rulings to bolster their defence that Constand is a money-grubbing liar.
They want the judge to let them call Marguerite Jackson, who says Constand spoke of framing a celebrity before she went to police with allegations Cosby drugged and molested her in 2004. They also want to let jurors know how much Cosby paid her in a 2006 civil settlement.
“Those are the bookends: I have a motive, and I have a payoff,” lawyer Kathleen Bliss argued. “The jury should be allowed to view the full context of that.”
Assistant District Attorney Kristen Fedden said prosecutors doubt the discussion with Jackson happened and Constand’s lawyer has said Jackson is “not telling the truth.”
The judge blocked Jackson from testifying at Cosby’s first trial, saying her testimony would be hearsay. Prosecutors want him to do the same for the retrial.
Prosecutors say the theory that Constand wanted to set up Cosby is undermined by his testimony in a 2005 deposition that she only visited his home when invited and that he gave her pills without her asking for them.
Prosecutors also argued the settlement is irrelevant to the criminal case but if it’s allowed in jurors should also hear about negotiations that led to the settlement.
Assistant District Attorney Stewart Ryan contended that Cosby’s negotiators initially asked that he be released from any criminal liability and tried to bar Constand from co-operating with law enforcement. He said that amounts to obstruction of justice.
“Those things are inconsistent with a person who believes he’s innocent,” Ryan said.
Thursday’s hearing started with arguments over the judge’s wife, Deborah O’Neill, a psychotherapist who co-ordinates a team that cares and advocates for student sexual assault victims.
The judge said the donation cited by Cosby’s lawyers didn’t involve his wife’s money or their joint assets.
“How are my wife’s independent views of an independent woman connected to me?” he said. “She’s an independent woman and has the right to be involved in anything that she believes in.”
He said Cosby’s old lawyers raised the prospect of having him step aside in December 2016 but never followed through. He said he could’ve rejected the recusal request because Cosby’s lawyers waited too long to ask.
He said the lawyers were aware of his wife’s work as far back as December 2016 but waited until getting several adverse rulings just before retrial to raise it as an issue.
He 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 in which spouses must agree on everything.
Cosby’s lawyers could still appeal the judge’s decision to allow the other accusers to testify to the state’s Supreme Court.
The pretrial hearing will continue Friday, including arguments over whether jurors can hear about a 2005 phone call in which Constand says she told her mother about the assault for the first time.
The judge agreed the retrial won’t start until at least April 9 and the jury chosen from suburban Montgomery County will be sequestered in a local hotel.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission, which Constand has done.
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