Cosby wants judge booted just before sentencing

Bill Cosby trial

With his legacy in tatters and facing prison-time on a sex assault conviction, Bill Cosby still has a few tricks up his sleeve and isn’t going down without a fight.

The legal team for Cosby, 81, recently filed a motion demanding that Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill, who presided over Cosby’s trial and conviction, recuse himself from the case, in part due to alleged bias because his wife is a a counselor for victims of sexual violence. But the motion is also based on new reports claiming that in 1998, he feuded with Montco DA Bruce Castor, a key witness for Cosby, while the two were competing for the DA’s office.

According to Cosby’s latest court papers, based on a report from celeb-gossip site Radar Online, at the time the two men were competing, O’Neill was separated from his wife – and his ex-girlfriend, Maureen Coggins (now a magisterial district judge) was a prosecutor in the Montco DA’s office, where Castor worked as first assistant district attorney. Radar claims Castor ordered Coggins to sit in front row center wearing a ‘Castor for DA’ pin during the debate, which reportedly broke O’Neill’s concentration and hurt his performance. Castor later got the GOP nomination for DA and went on to win the race.

Since that date, Cosby’s lawyer’s claim, a “hostile and acrimonious” relationship has existed between the two, which they claim tainted Cosby’s trial. (O’Neill, Coggins and Castor did not respond to requests for comment.)

“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,” wrote Cosby’s current attorney, Joseph Green, in a motion for Judge O’Neill to recuse himself filed on Sept. 11. “The court could not possibly be impartial regarding Mr. Castor’s credibility.”

Prosecutors denounced the move as a stalling tactic ahead of his upcoming sentencing date.

“No stale tabloid report or legally baseless claim should stand in the way of sentencing in this matter,” wrote prosecutors from Montgomery County DA Kevin Steele’s office in their response. “Time has come for the defendant to face the consequences of his crimes and his misdeeds.”

Former Montco DA Bruce Castor, seen during a break from testifying at Bill Cosby's February 2016 hearing. (Pool photo)

Why Bill Cosby is attacking the judge

The role of former DA Castor is deeply intertwined with the  Bill Cosby case. Castor was Montco DA from 2000 to 2008.

In 2005, he decided to not press charges against Cosby after Andrea Constand accused the aged entertainer of drugging and sexually assaulting her in his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.

In 2015, newly elected Montco DA Kevin Steele indicted Cosby for assaulting Constand, just days before the 10-year statute of limitations expired.

But the trial might never have gone forward if Judge O’Neill had not dismissed testimony from Castor that he and Cosby’s lawyers made a “non-prosecution agreement” back in 2005.

Castor claimed that he had made a secret agreement, never memorialized in any court hearing or legal filing, with Cosby’s former attorney Wally Phillips, who is now deceased. Castor later explained Constand was not a credible victim, so he bargained with Cosby’s lawyers to not charge him if Cosby would agree to testify for a deposition in Constand’s civil lawsuit – which Cosby settled for $3.4 million.

Bruce Castor chose not to prosecute Bill Cosby in 2005 for the Andrea Constand case in which he was later convicted.

During a February 2016 hearing, Castor’s semicoherent explanations of the secret agreement were harshly attacked by prosecutors – as well as his claim that he secretly encoded the non-prosecution agreement into a 2005 press release on the Cosby case. From the bench, O’Neill also harshly questioned Castor about the alleged “secret” agreement during the hearing. “We have an immunity statute… Why did you not make it in writing? Why did you not do that? Do you know why didn’t you do that?” Prosecutors further established that in 2015 interviews, Castor had contradicted his own alleged agreement, when he told media that Cosby could be prosecuted if new evidence arose. 

“It is hard to believe anyone who gives multiple and drastically different versions of the same facts, which Castor did,” prosecutors wrote in their response papers. “This court found Castor’s testimony less reliable than others based on legitimate credibility assessments, not from a personal bias.”

Judge O’Neill has yet to issue a ruling on the motion.  Bill Cosby’s sentencing remains scheduled to take place at Montgomery County Court in Norristown on Sept. 24.

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