The judge in the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial near Philadelphia trial took just 20 minutes this morning to consider an unusual request: Should he pull himself off the case he has presided over for 27 months and already held one trial for?
The recusal motion for Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill was the latest of numerous attempts by Cosby and his lawyers to delay his trial, and his attempt died this morning. O’Neill denied the motion for his recusal, saying Cosby’s lawyers had presented no evidence of bias, despite his wife’s involvement with an advocacy organization for sexual assault victims.
“I am unaware of many of my spouse’s involvement in many causes,” he said here at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa. “She’s an independent woman and has a right to be involved in anything she believes in.”
Cosby argued for O’Neill’s recusal because his wife, Deborah O’Neill, is the director of the Sexual Trauma Treatment and Prevention Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Tom Mesereau, Cosby’s lead attorney, argued that she had donated to an organization affiliated with a protest scheduled for outside the courthouse during Cosby’s trial, and O’Neill’s marital assets thus had been used to support an organization connected with the case. O’Neill found that wasn’t true. He said the donation had been made by her employer, not his wife.
Cosby is being tried on charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, at his Philadelphia-area home in 2004. O’Neill declared a mistrial last summer after jurors failed to reach a verdict in the case.
The judge also revealed today that Cosby’s earlier defense team, spearheaded by Pennsylvania lawyer Brian McMonagle, had considered motioning for his recusal in December 2016. McMonagle, O’Neill and Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele had a conversation about the possibility after an article that ran in Black Press USA about O’Neill’s wife’s occupation caught Cosby’s attention. O’Neill told McMonagle he would need to bring up the request in court or in a filing, and he never did.
Cosby didn’t take the arguments against the recusal motion well. As O’Neill noted no marital assets were used, the comedian shook his head and laughed quietly.
For weeks, the tension between the opposing counsels and between O’Neill and the defense had increased. At the last hearing, O’Neill admonished Cosby’s lawyers for citing out-of-state cases that had no precedent in a Pennsylvania courtroom. He began today’s hearing by chiding them for improperly filing the recusal motion on a day when the courthouse was closed.
O’Neill’s personal feelings about the request were apparent as he explained his decision to deny. He brought up the respect and love he had for his wife, who he said had raised children for many years and then worked hard to advance her academic and professional career.
“It’s difficult to have her accomplishments then trivialized,” O’Neill said, “in the context of a partisan motion.
“My spouse and I share the love of each other and our families, our children and our grandchildren. What we do not share are unified views of social, legal and political issues.”
Jury selection in the trial was scheduled to begin today but has been pushed to Monday. Both the prosecution and Cosby’s defense team indicated that they wanted the trial to begin April 9, rather than immediately after jury selection. O’Neill said he would consider the request but didn’t agree to the date yet.