Bill Cosby’s defense team wants the judge overseeing his case recused because his wife directs a University of Pennsylvania group assisting victims of sexual assault.
Cosby’s lawyers spelled out their request today in a massive 239-page motion, asking the court to assign another judge to replace Judge Steven O’Neill, who presided over the original trial and all of the case’s myriad hearings.
His wife, Deborah V. O’Neill, is the coordinator of the Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention program at the University of Pennsylvania, known as STTOP.
The news comes as two more days of pretrial hearings in Cosby’s retrial for sexual assault against former Temple employee Andrea Constant are set for March 29 and March 30. Jury selection is scheduled for April 2.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele responded quickly to the defense’s motion to have the judge removed, calling the request “a thinly-veiled attempt to delay and pollute the jury pool.”
STTOP provides counseling to students who have experienced sexual trauma and has a stance that “the culture of silence surrounding sexual assault and rape….undermines the public health and safety of all members of a community.” Cosby’s defense team also pointed out a dissertation Deborah O’Neill wrote in 2012 on acquaintance rape and her monetary support of a campus group called V-Day UPenn that has contributed money to Women Organized Against Rape. WOAR has scheduled a protest outside the Montgomery County Courthouse the day jury selection begins in Cosby’s trial.
Cosby’s attorneys, led by Tom Mesereau, argued decisions O’Neill has made to allow five previous accusers to testify and to not let Constand’s friend Margo Jackson testify could lead others to question his impartiality.
“Because of Dr. O’Neill’s marriage to Judge O’Neill,” they wrote, “and the close partnership the two presumably share, it is submitted that ‘a significant minority of the lay community could reasonably question the court’s impartiality’ and therefore recusal is required.”
The prosecution, led by Steele, countered by noting if O’Neill’s relationship with his wife affected his impartiality he would not be able to preside over any sexual assault case. He called the defense’s motion an “unfounded and malicious” attempt to discredit the judicial system.
“After casting blame on everyone but himself — the prosecutors, the investigation, the media, the victim, the many women accusing him of sexual assault, a federal judge, and his past attorneys are just some examples,” Steele wrote, “he plays his last card by blaming the Court.”
These motions are the latest in an increasingly contentious relationship between the defense and prosecution. Two weeks ago, at a pretrial hearing, Mesereau and the other attorneys accused Steele’s prosecution team of misconduct. Steele responded by asking whether the out-of-state attorneys should be allowed to practice in Pennsylvania for the case.
After the first trial, Cosby’s wife Camille took a shot at O’Neill, calling him “heinously and exploitively ambitious.”
Cosby’s defense team lost a battle to have the trial delayed earlier this week but did notch a victory today: Courtroom attendees will not be allowed to wear pins, badges, stickers or any kind of support for either the prosecution or defense.