According to the Associated Press, disgraced comedian Bill Cosby's lawyers have asked for Judge Steven O'Neill to be removed from presiding over his upcoming retrial on April 2. Cosby's lawyers requested O'Neill's removal on Thursday, arguing that O'Neill's wife's work as an advocate for survivors of sexual violence could make the judge seem biased in his decision-making skills during Cosby's sexual assault retrial.
O'Neill's wife, Deborah O'Neill, calls herself an "advocate for assault victims" and works as a psychotherapist on the University of Pennsylvania's outreach group for sexual assault victims. AP reports that Deborah has academically studied and written on sexual violence, specifically acquaintance rape, in her dissertation. Neither the judge nor his wife have responded to media requests for comments on Cosby's legal team's argument. Cosby's legal team also claims that O'Neill's wife gave money to a group that has connections with an organization that intends to stage demonstrations outside the court where his upcoming trial is to take place.
The Guardian reported that Cosby's lawyers pointed to O'Neill's decision to allow five more accusers to testify in the April trial as an example in which the judge could appear to be influenced by his wife's advocacy work.
The comedian is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, Temple University's former athletic coordinator, in his own residence in Philadelphia in 2004. Cosby has pleaded not guilty to Constand's accusations, and has vehemently denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex against him by Constand and scores of other women.
Cosby's first trial resulted in a deadlocked jury, meaning that jurors were unable to reach a supermajority position in spite of lengthy deliberation over six days. The hung jury was so baffling that The New York Times conducted in-depth one-on-ones with top criminal law experts in order to understand why such an extended deliberation ultimately led to a deadlocked jury.
While speaking with The Times, Barbara Ashcroft, associate professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law, said the jurors were "'fighting' over who to believe and who to trust as they methodically examine and in this case 're-examine' the testimony." She described it as "a classic sexual assault case of 'he says, she says.'"
This will not be the first time that Cosby's side has aired concerns over Judge O'Neill. According to AP, Cosby's wife Camille criticized O'Neill while he presided over Cosby's first trial. Camille said that O'Neill was "overtly arrogant and collaborating with the district attorney."
AP reports that recently, Cosby's team referenced regulations that prohibit O'Neill from working and making legal decisions under the influence of his own family members. In their argument, Cosby's lawyers say that O'Neill gave "an appearance" of lack of impartiality when he reportedly did not allow one particular woman to speak in front of the jury.
The lawyers contend that in June 2017, O'Neill did not allow the defense to call Marguerite Jackson as a witness. Jackson, a Temple University academic adviser, said that Constand told her years ago that she could frame a popular celebrity of sexual assault "so she could sue and get money." Constand said during cross-examination at the time that she did not remember Jackson.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer in January, Cosby's legal team argued that Jackson's testimony was critical for the trial and released a collective statement that said, "Her statement established a motive to fabricate such a story, specifically that it could enable her to get money to pay for school and to open a business." The Inquirer noted that his team seeks to reintroduce Jackson in the trial in April.
For now, it is unclear as to how and when O'Neill will respond to Cosby's legal team's contentions. If the judge says no to stepping aside from his position in the upcoming trial, AP reports that Cosby's legal team said he should allow them to immediately appeal his decision.