NORRISTOWN — Two weeks before Bill Cosby is to be sentenced for sexually assaulting a woman at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004, his lawyers have asked the sentencing judge to recuse himself from the case.
Cosby’s lawyers claim Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill had a longstanding feud with onetime former District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr., stemming from their 1999 battle for the GOP nomination for district attorney, which was secured by Castor, and called into question O’Neill’s Feb. 4, 2016, ruling rejecting Cosby’s claim he had a promise from Castor that he would never be prosecuted for the 2004 sexual assault.
When O’Neill denied Cosby’s request to dismiss the charges in February 2016 “and made an adverse credibility determination regarding Mr. Castor,” O’Neill should have disqualified himself because his “impartiality might reasonably be questioned” due to his “personal knowledge of and bias against Mr. Castor,” defense lawyer Joseph P. Green Jr. wrote in court papers filed on Tuesday.
“The court made no disclosures, at any time before, during or after the hearing, that the court had long been embroiled in a personal conflict with Mr. Castor that can only be described as nasty…that would cause any reasonable person, including any reasonable judge…to conclude that the court could not possibly be impartial regarding Mr. Castor’s credibility,” Green wrote in court papers.
“Throughout his terms on the bench, Judge O’Neill’s relationship with Castor, serving as district attorney and later as a county commissioner, has remained hostile and acrimonious,” argued Green, who his being assisted by Ardmore lawyer Peter Goldberger.
Calls made by Cosby’s previous lawyers for O’Neill to recuse himself were previously denied.
Green suggested O’Neill should reconsider recusing himself as he is now being asked to serve as the factfinder at Cosby’s sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to commence on Sept. 24.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated about 14 hours over two days before convicting Cosby on April 26 of the three felony charges in connection with sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, after plying her with “three blue pills,” at his Cheltenham mansion in January 2004.
Cosby’s wife, Camille, issued a statement on Tuesday calling on O’Neill to “provide a full accounting of his bias against” Castor “and correct the horrible injustice done to Mr. Cosby and to our system of justice.”
It’s unclear if O’Neill will hold a hearing on the latest request by Cosby’s defense team.
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele characterized Cosby’s latest request as “desperate.”
“This defense filing is simply a desperate, 11th-hour attempt by Cosby’s current set of attorneys to stop the sentencing of a convicted felon for his crimes,” Steele said. “This motion reflects the fact that the defendant accepts no responsibility for his own actions. We will be filing a response.”
During a Feb. 2, 2016, hearing at which Cosby’s lawyers sought a dismissal of the charges, Castor, district attorney from 2000 to 2008, claimed he made a binding promise to Cosby and his then lawyer in 2005 that Cosby would never be prosecuted in connection with Constand’s allegations. Stopping short of calling his decision an “agreement,” Castor claimed he alone as a “sovereign” entity had the authority to make a binding decision. Castor testified, “Mr. Cosby was not getting prosecuted ever, as far as I was concerned.”
In a carefully worded order on Feb. 4, 2016, O’Neill said he based his decision not to dismiss charges against Cosby on the arguments of lawyers and the testimony of witnesses during the hearing, indicating “a credibility determination” also was “an inherent part” of his decision.
O’Neill has allowed Cosby to remain free on bail, 10 percent of $1 million, to await sentencing. The entertainer must wear an electronic monitoring device while he remains free. Cosby cannot leave the state without approval of the judge.
Cosby, who turned 81 in July, faces a possible maximum sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison on the charges.