Lawyers for Bill Cosby will battle in court starting Tuesday as they try to limit the number of other accusers who can testify at his sexual assault trial.
Prosecutors hope to call 13 other women to show that the comedian and actor had a pattern of drugging and molesting women. The defense will attack their credibility and relevance as they try to keep them off the witness stand at the trial, scheduled for the spring.
“To come up with the required showing of a ‘signature,’ the commonwealth reaches for a cliché: a giant in the entertainment industry using his power to take advantage of young aspiring actresses. Even if proven … the age-old ‘casting couch’ is not unique to Mr. Cosby,” defense lawyer Brian McMonagle wrote in an October defense brief opposing the testimony.
That “prior bad act” evidence could make or break the case, which began a decade ago when Temple University employee Andrea Constand filed a police complaint against her friend and mentor over a 2004 encounter at Cosby’s home near Philadelphia. A prosecutor at the time declined to file charges.
But authorities reopened the case last year after scores of women raised similar accusations and after Cosby’s damaging deposition testimony from Constand’s lawsuit became public. The trial judge last week said the deposition was fair game at trial, arming prosecutors with Cosby’s own testimony about his affairs with young women, his use of quaaludes as a seduction tool and his version of the sexual encounter with Constand the night in question.
Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill must now rule on the testimony from the 13 other accusers in the hearing, set for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Cosby’s lawyers had hoped to question the women in person, but O’Neill rejected the idea. He will instead hear what are sure to be strenuous arguments from both sides about their accounts.
Some of the women had ongoing friendships or romantic relationships with Cosby, while others knew him for only a few days after meeting him on a plane or at a casino. Some, like Constand, took pills knowingly – she thought it was an herbal drug; he later said it was Benadryl – while others believe he slipped something stronger in their drinks.
McMonagle has petitioned to ask each accuser one as many as 80 questions as he tries to defend what he calls decades-old, vague accusations that were never vetted at the time. The defense has also questioned the women’s motivation, noting many are clients of celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who has suggested Cosby should put up a $100 million settlement fund for potential sexual assault and defamation claims.
Allred told The Associated Press last week that her clients have a duty to testify if the court wants to hear from them. She called the defense’s dismissal of their accounts “out of context or just plain wrong.”
O’Neill must walk a fine line in weighing their testimony, given a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that threw out a Roman Catholic Church official’s child-endangerment conviction because the Philadelphia trial judge let too many priest-abuse victims testify about the alleged church cover-up.