Bill Cosby wants judge replaced because of his wife's advocacy

Bill Cosby departing the Montgomery County Courthouse on March 6, 2018, in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Bill Cosby departing the Montgomery County Courthouse on March 6, 2018, in Norristown, Pennsylvania.PHOTO: AFP

(NYTIMES) - Bill Cosby, approaching a retrial on charges he drugged and molested a young woman in 2004, is seeking to have the presiding judge replaced because the judge's wife has been an active supporter of sexual assault victims.

In a motion filed on Thursday, Cosby's lawyers said that there was a "clear appearance of partiality" on the part of Judge Steven T. O'Neill and that he should be replaced by another, randomly selected judge.

The court papers note that O'Neill's wife, Deborah V. O'Neill, a social worker at the University of Pennsylvania, is an advocate for victims of sexual assault. She leads the university's Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention programme and has donated, the court papers say, to a campus group, V-Day UPenn, that has given money to a group that plans to rally outside the Montgomery County Courthouse during the retrial. The rally is being organised to show support for Andrea Constand, the accuser in this case, and other women who have accused Cosby of sexual abuse.

Legal experts said that the standard for removing a judge for a potential conflict of interest is very high and that judges are normally allowed to decide for themselves whether they can be impartial in a case.

"Pennsylvania has long been very clear that a judge decides the recusal issue himself or herself and that those decisions are not overturned absent a clear abuse of discretion," said Dennis C. McAndrews, a lawyer in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

"The irony to me is that Judge O'Neill has a reputation as being a total straight shooter," McAndrews added. "He's done both prosecution and defence work. He's very experienced."

Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law and an expert on legal ethics, said that standard prevailed in the judicial system.


"We do not attribute the ideological views of a spouse to a judge," Gillers said. "We trust judges to make decisions based on the law and not because their husbands or wives would like to see a particular result. We trust judges to be independent of the influence of good friends, of parents, of spouses, and decide on the law."