Days before a court hearing that could send her famous husband to prison, Bill Cosby’s wife intensified her attacks on a judge she has called “arrogant,” “corrupt” and “unethical,” and said the family had filed an ethics complaint and hired a former FBI agent to investigate him.
Camille Cosby accused trial judge Steven T. O’Neill of harbouring a secret bias in her husband’s sex assault case because of his supposed grudge with a key pretrial witness. She travelled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the state capital, with a Los Angeles lawyer on Monday to file a complaint with the state’s Judicial Conduct Board.
The move comes a week to the day before O’Neill is set to sentence the 81-year-old actor for drugging and molesting a woman friend at his estate near Philadelphia in 2004. Cosby faces up to 10 years in prison on each of three felony counts, but is likely to get far less time — perhaps two to three years or less — under state sentencing guidelines.
“I am filing this complaint against Judge ... O’Neill on behalf of not only Bill Cosby but all citizens who may one day find themselves in his corrupt courtroom,” Camille Cosby said in a statement released by a family spokesman. “The judge must be held accountable for his unethical behaviour.”
She renewed allegations that O’Neill had a grudge with former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, who testified for the defence in the 2016 pretrial hearing. Castor had declined to prosecute Cosby when accuser Andrea Constand first came forward in 2005 and said he considered the decision binding.
O’Neill, finding no evidence of an immunity agreement, upheld the charges, and Cosby was convicted in a second trial this spring. He has been on house arrest at his estate near Philadelphia since the April 26 conviction.
Cosby’s lawyers had earlier asked O’Neill to step down before the retrial because of his wife’s work as an advocate for college sex abuse victims, and called the case a political football in the 2015 race for district attorney. Castor was seeking to return to office that fall, but lost to Kevin Steele, who charged Cosby as more accusers came forward and Cosby’s deposition testimony in Constand’s related civil lawsuit was unsealed.
And defence lawyers filed another motion in Montgomery County Court last week asking O’Neill to recuse himself before the sentencing. They said the alleged O’Neill-Castor feud dated to the late 1990s, when both men pursued the county prosecutor’s job and O’Neill dated a woman in Castor’s office.
Steele, in response, called the latest effort to unseat O’Neill “a desperate, 11th-hour attempt ... to stop the sentencing.”
O’Neill has not ruled on the motion and did not return a call for comment Monday about the ethics complaint. However, he issued a passionate defence of his judicial independence when he refused to step down before trial, saying his wife “has the right to be involved in anything that she believes in.”
Lawyer Samuel Stretton regularly defends lawyers and judges in Pennsylvania ethics cases and once served on the state disciplinary board. He said that ethics complaints are supposed to be filed confidentially to avoid maligning people with frivolous accusations. Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt said the family was not releasing the complaint itself, but only Camille Cosby’s statement.
Stretton doubted the move would delay the sentencing. If it did, he said, “every criminal defendant would file a complaint.”
“Playing with this recusal issue, and now publicising this complaint, I don’t see how that advances the ball at all in the long run, because it makes them look like they’re desperate,” Stretton said.