Bill Cosby’s lawyers contend the Pennsylvania judge who is presiding in the comedian’s retrial on charges of aggravated indecent assault should recuse himself because the judge’s wife is an advocate for sexual assault victims.
Lawyers for Cosby said in a motion filed on Thursday that Judge Steven O’Neill had shown “a clear appearance of partiality” in rulings made in advance of the April 2 retrial, report the New York Times, the Associated Press and Philly.com.
O’Neill had declared a mistrial last June when jurors deadlocked after 52 hours of deliberations. Cosby’s accuser, Andrea Constand, had testified Cosby groped and penetrated her with his hand in January 2004 at his suburban Philadelphia home after he gave her three pills that caused her to temporarily lose consciousness.
The judge’s wife, Deborah O’Neill, is a social worker on a University of Pennsylvania team that supports and advocates for students who are victims of sexual assault. According to the motion, she has donated money to an advocacy group that plans a rally outside the courthouse during Cosby’s trial.
The motion cites several recent decisions deemed to show apparent bias. One indication, the motion says, was O’Neill’s ruling last week that allowed five accusers besides Constand to testify in the retrial. On Monday, O’Neill refused to delay the retrial to allow Cosby’s lawyers more time to prepare for the witnesses.
Cosby’s motion also pointed to a decision in which O’Neill allowed the retrial even though records show the sexual assault could not have occurred in January 2004. The records suggest that any incident fell outside the window for prosecution, the motion argued.
Philly.com and the Times spoke with ethics experts for their take on the recusal motion.
Typically, conflicts of interest involve situations in which a spouse has a direct financial interest to a party in the case, Widener University law professor Robert David told Philly.com.
In an interview with the Times, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers gave examples where recusal is warranted: where a spouse is a member of a law firm that could benefit from a judge’s decision, or where a spouse is a lawyer in the case.
But ideological views of spouses are not attributed to judges, 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.”