Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Tap of the Gavel in Honor of Judge William J. Furber Jr. at his Retirement

The end of a year often brings with it some retirements in government and legal circles and none was more noticeable last week than that of Montgomery County President Judge William J. Furber Jr.

Photo of Portrait of Judge William J. Furber Jr.
Furber, 68, of Narberth, retired after more than 23 years on the county bench. Throughout his tenure, Furber was known for his leadership qualities and his reputation as a jurist was impeccable. Furber’s knowledge of the law, temperament and wisdom garnered much respect from colleagues and the lawyers who practiced in his courtroom. He was known as a true gentleman, a man who wore his signature bow tie to work on many days.

Having sat in his courtroom covering trials on many occasions, I was always struck by Furber’s fairness, courteousness, respectful tone and patience. I recall covering Furber’s Jan. 6, 2012, installation as president judge and I can say the judge certainly fulfilled the promises he made at that time.

“When it comes to courthouse culture, I am old school – courteousness, patience and respect and the willingness to listen are important traits for judges and lawyers alike. I believe in decorum. These courtrooms are sacred to me,” Furber told the crowd during a heartfelt speech in 2012. 

“You can have the greatest and most well-funded programs in the world, but if you don’t know how to bring out the best in people, with basic courtesy and respect, then the effort will fail,” Furber added.

I think those are powerful words to live by, for every judge.

A kind man, Furber always acknowledged the support he received from his wife, Welcome, his three sons and his courthouse family, administrative assistant Lois Joiner, court clerk Liz Oreo, court reporter Lisa Neal and court criers Bob Miller and Joe Wallen.

On Dec. 30, county Commissioner Joe Gale presented Judge Furber with a citation on behalf of the board of commissioners in recognition of his retirement and many years of service. The event was held prior to Veteran’s Treatment Court, which Furber presided over since its inception in 2011.

Screen shot of Commissioner Joe Gale's tribute to Furber via Twitter
“We, the Commissioners of Montgomery County, do hereby commend and congratulate the Honorable William J. Furber Jr. on the occasion of his retirement after many years of dedicated public service and express our gratitude for his exemplary service and contributions to the citizens of Montgomery County,” the citation read.  
Photo of Portrait of Judge William J. Furber Jr.

Furber, a graduate of the University of Maryland and Temple University School of Law who was elected to the bench in 1993 and who was retained in 2003 and 2013 for additional 10-year terms, beamed with pride during the event.  

Furber, who served in the Marine Corps, presided over the specialty court that was formed to enhance public safety and reduce recidivism rates among veterans who are charged with crimes. Under the program, veterans are connected with community treatment services through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs while receiving appropriate dispositions to their criminal charges.

During his time on the bench, Furber also presided over civil, family and criminal court. Prior to being elected a judge in 1993, Furber worked as a county prosecutor from 1974 to 1976 and then was a litigation specialist and partner with the Norristown firm Wilson, Drayer, Morrow and Furber from 1976 to 1991. In 1991, Furber became a sole practitioner with an office in Norristown.

So, as you leave the bench Judge Furber, I want to thank you for your many years of service and congratulate you on a retirement that is well earned. Enjoy! You will be missed around the county halls of justice.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

'Tis the Season for Awareness and Prevention

As the holiday week arrives and party season is in full swing, public safety officials nationwide warn us about the dangers of drunken driving.

As a court reporter, I’m reminded of those dangers on a daily basis with DUI cases comprising nearly a quarter of all the cases that come through the courthouse annually. The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office is currently prosecuting more than 1,400 DUI cases and the Sheriff’s Office Warrants Division has more than 900 DUI warrants on its books.

Tragically, too many DUI cases end with someone being killed or maimed.

So during this season of awareness and prevention I make a special mention here of a unique collaboration between members of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pennsylvania. Sheriff’s deputies, prosecutors and MADD officials volunteer their time to promote a designated driver program during Philadelphia Eagles home games.

Montco Sheriff Sean P. Kilkenny/Submitted Photo

“We’ve participated in several. I think it’s very valuable. They help educate fans about the dangers of drunk driving and the importance of designated drivers at home games,’ Sheriff Sean P. Kilkenny told me recently.

“The volunteers man the table. These dedicated men and women offer their personal time to volunteer to attend Eagles football games and work at the MADD booth and encourage fans to plan ahead and designate a non-drinking driver,” explained Linda Sposato, a victim services specialist for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pennsylvania, adding MADD National and the NFL have teamed for five years at identical events at stadiums nationwide.

The volunteers, four at each game, man a MADD booth at eight home games and two preseason games at Lincoln Financial Field.
“We get the fans as they come into the stadium and explain to them the importance of them having a non-drinking designated driver for the group that they’re with,” Sposato said.
Linda Sposato, victim services specialist for MADD/Photo by Carl Hessler. Jr.

Under the program, the designated drivers sign a pledge and receive a coupon for a free soft drink. The designated drivers also are entered into special drawings to win prizes at each game.

“The people who sign up are very passionate about being a designated driver and making sure that their friends and family get home safe. And many times you find they somehow know someone who was involved in a DUI crash,” said Sposato. “We’d like to have more people sign up. We’re still giving the same message that we started over 30 years ago - make a plan before you go out.”

Assistant District Attorney Douglas Lavenberg, who once was a member of a special DUI prosecution unit in the county, has also volunteered at the games and said encouraging fans to make “smart choices” is important.
Montco Prosecutor Douglas Lavenberg/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“People can go out, they can have fun and they can drink responsibly but we don’t want anyone to get behind the wheel intoxicated,” Lavenberg said. “It’s a reminder to be responsible. The games are a great forum to get that message out. We get a lot of people to sign up.”

It’s a great opportunity for volunteers to get involved.

“Many times the volunteers are victims and they want to make a difference because of what happened to them,” said Sposato. “They feel they want to do something to stop it from happening to someone else.”

According to Sposato, during the five seasons that MADD and the NFL have worked together, more than 1.1 million people signed up to be non-drinking designated drivers at NFL games nationwide.

Lavenberg said he plans to stay involved in the effort.
“I believe strongly in the message that Mothers Against Drunk Driving is sending. I believe there is a world possible where there is no more drunk driving,” Lavenberg said.

Sposato said MADD is honored to have a local partnership with county officials “dedicated to keeping our roads safe for everyone.”

“To actually have the DA’s office and the sheriff’s department volunteer their own personal time to come out and support our cause just made me feel so good that they appreciate MADD’s work and want to help us,” Sposato said. “MADD is extremely grateful to the Sheriff’s Office along with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for going above and beyond in their part in saving lives.”

Sposato, the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office should be recognized for everything they do to make our roads safer year round. I applaud your efforts and thank you.

Here’s wishing all readers a very Merry Christmas and safe holiday season.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Local Legal Experts Agree, Bill Cosby's Next Courtroom Clash is 'THE' Battle

[NOTE: Bill Cosby returns to a Montgomery County courtroom next week to try to keep 13 other women, who allegedly accuse him of sexual misconduct, from testifying against him at his upcoming trial for allegedly sexually assaulting one woman at his Cheltenham home. Legal insiders say it's probably the most important legal battle in the criminal case.  Recently, I asked some well-known local lawyers what they thought about the battle. Portions of the following report previously appeared in The Mercury, the Times Herald, The Reporter, the Daily Local and the Daily Times. Here's a recap to bring you up to date:]

They are identified in court papers as “Prior Victim One to Thirteen,” former Playboy Club workers, models, aspiring actresses and comedy writers, flight attendants, cocktail waitresses, and secretaries, and they could play a significant role in the alleged sexual assault trial of entertainer Bill Cosby.

Montco DA Kevin R. Steele

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele alleges the unidentified women were victims of Cosby’s uncharged sexual misconduct from the 1970's through the 1990's and should be permitted to testify at Cosby’s trial on charges he sexually assaulted one woman, Andrea Constand, at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004. Steele argues the testimony is relevant “to establish a common plan, scheme or design” for the jury.

“During the course of this case, the commonwealth investigated nearly fifty women allegedly victimized by the defendant. What became clear was that defendant has engaged, over the course of his lifetime, in a pattern of serial sexual abuse,” Steele wrote in court papers.

But defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle claims the prosecution is attempting “to bolster its weak case” with the testimony of 13 other women and that such testimony would be unfairly prejudicial to Cosby and should not be permitted. McMonagle argues due to the passage of time, “Cosby cannot even prove where he was at the time of many of the alleged incidents” and that the accusers’ allegations are “vague.”
Brian McMonagle/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“The commonwealth’s strategy magnifies the unfair prejudice to Mr. Cosby significantly. Ten of these accusers did not come forward until more than a decade after the commonwealth’s highly publicized 2005 investigation. These ten accusers chose to wait until 27 to 46 years after the alleged incidents and after Mr. Cosby had gone blind,” McMonagle and co-defense lawyer Angela C. Agrusa wrote in court papers.

Judge Steven T. O’Neill will begin weighing the admissibility of the so-called “prior bad acts” when he holds a pretrial hearing on the matter beginning Tuesday. Local legal experts agree it’s a key pretrial battle that could determine the path that the lone criminal prosecution pending against Cosby takes.

“That’s what this case boils down to. That’s the whole thing. The more of that that comes in, the more helpful it is to the prosecution, plain and simple,” said criminal defense lawyer Jordan Friter. “That is ‘THE’ courtroom battle in this case. That has to be the goal of the defense from Day One - to keep as much of that, if not all of it, out as is certainly possible.”

Thomas C. Egan III/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“Given the other rulings that have already been made, this is the largest ruling that is left. And if the defense is handicapped because the government is successful in litigating this motion so the evidence is all going to come in, then it’s going to be an avalanche of new evidence which is going to have to be gone over by the defense and rebutted on a case-by-case basis by the defense,” added Norristown criminal defense lawyer Thomas C. Egan III.

Egan and Friter, each a former prosecutor turned defense lawyer, have handled their fair share of high-profile local cases in county court but are not connected to the Cosby case.

So-called “prior bad acts” are sometimes allowed at trial but judges scrutinize such requests very carefully and require prosecutors to prove they’re relevant.

“As a defense lawyer, I would argue vigorously to keep it out. The key to any trial is that the judge provides a fair trial to the prosecution and to the defense,” said Lower Merion criminal defense lawyer Cary B. McClain, also a former prosecutor, who is not connected to the Cosby case.


Cosby, 79, faces a June 5, 2017, trial on charges of aggravated indecent assault in connection with his alleged contact with Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, after plying her with blue pills and wine at his Cheltenham home sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004.
Bill Cosby/Montco Arrest Photo

The case represents the first time Cosby, who played Dr. Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992, has been charged with a crime despite allegations from dozens of women who claimed they were assaulted by the entertainer. Cosby has been named in several civil lawsuits filed by women who claim he violated them too.

Cosby claims he was prejudiced by a decade-old delay in bringing sexual assault charges against him and that the charges should be thrown out.

But Steele has said prosecutors reopened the criminal investigation in July 2015 after segments of Cosby’s deposition connected to a 2005 civil suit brought against him by Constand were unsealed by a federal judge. In that deposition, Cosby gave damaging testimony, allegedly admitting he obtained Quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex. Prosecutors contend Cosby also admitted for the first time that he had sexual contact with Constand. Cosby has suggested it was consensual contact.

“The release of these depositions generated a great deal of publicity, as well as a number of public claims by women who alleged Cosby had assaulted them under circumstances similar to those reported by (Constand),” prosecutors alleged in the arrest affidavit.

Legal insiders believe the key to the prosecution’s case against Cosby is the admissibility of evidence involving alleged victims who came forward after Constand’s allegations.


When prior bad acts testimony is admissible, it can be “incredibly damaging,” Friter said.
Jordan Friter/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“Once juries start to hear about a person’s other conduct, which is something that’s always in the back of their minds, and they hear about things that a person may have done in the past, that makes it a tough hill to climb (for the defense),” Friter said.

“If the government’s allowed to introduce this evidence it is not just one alleged victim who is making allegations against Mr. Cosby, it is a whole host of them, all of whom do not know each other. So it has a tendency to give greater credence to what these other people are saying…,” Egan added. “If they can’t introduce that evidence, then it’s the prosecution case rising and falling on the word of one alleged victim.”

Before putting on his defense hat, Friter, as a prosecutor, was captain of the district attorney’s sex crimes unit and in that capacity did file requests to admit prior bad acts at some trials.

“As a prosecutor that’s one of the most powerful weapons you have is to be able to bring in someone’s prior alleged conduct because normally it’s completely off limits. But, especially in a sexual assault case, if you can get it out there that a person has done the exact same thing before, in a jury’s eyes, that’s just powerful evidence of guilt,” said Friter, speaking generally.

“I had cases where it came in and cases where it didn’t. The cases where it came in they ended up being successful prosecutions, I think in large part because of that, absolutely, there’s no denying it,” said Friter, adding in a case where it’s one person’s word against another’s and you have something to “tip the scale” in favor of the victim “it’s hard for the defense to overcome that.”

McClain said it’s difficult for a defense lawyer to wage a fight against an accuser’s testimony about something that allegedly happened decades ago under circumstances where there are no police reports, no video and no other witnesses to the incident. 

Cary B. McClain/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
“It’s impossible to defend against those cases and you’re going to have a case within a case, within a case, and it’s going to confuse the jury and it is way too prejudicial,” McClain maintained.

On the other hand, the legal experts said, with no police reports available to corroborate the other accusers’ allegations of sexual misconduct, Cosby’s lawyers could argue the accusers’ claims are suspect.

“You also have the issue of making a sexual assault trial into larger trials on the sexual assault allegations made by all these other women. If the defense is going to litigate it properly they’re going to have to treat each one of those as a separate sexual assault trial to undermine the credibility of each one of those,” Egan said.

Regardless how O’Neill rules, it’s not likely to set any precedent, experts said.

“It will not set any precedent in the county - the legal standards are the legal standards. But it’s going to be interesting to see how Judge O’Neill applies them to the particular facts of this case,” Egan said.

Stay tuned, I'll be in the courtroom on Tuesday to give you the latest developments when Cosby returns to court. Follow @MontcoCourtNews on Twitter for updates.

[The newspapers do not normally identify victims of sex crimes without their consent but is using Constand’s name because she has identified herself publicly.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Montco Employees Help Veterans with 'Stars & Strikes For Vets'

With kind hearts and in the spirit of giving, a group of Montgomery County Court employees has organized a fundraiser to assist veterans - a way, they say, to “give back to those who gave so much.”

Dubbed “Stars and Strikes For Vets,” the event, open to court clerks, reporters and other courthouse employees, will be held Dec. 2 at Facenda Whitaker Lanes in East Norriton from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Donations of $30 will include unlimited bowling and pizza. The deadline to register is Friday, so get out your bowling shoes for a great cause.

Organizers said the proceeds of the fundraiser will be donated to “Vets for Vets,” a nonprofit organization that assists returning local veterans during their readjustment from military to civilian life, including helping vets find transitional housing.

Contact court clerk Ali Hasapes at for more information, to register or to make a donation.

Initially, organizers thought a bowling party would be a great way for court clerks and court stenographers to bond with one another. But a greater endeavor soon took root.

“One day we were sitting down and thought that it would be a nice idea to bowl for a purpose. We tossed some ideas around and we realized that the vets would be a great choice for our fundraiser,” explained Lisa Neal, a court stenographer and the daughter of an Army veteran and the sister of a Navy veteran.

Neal also works in the courtroom of President Judge William J. Furber Jr., who presides over the county’s Veteran’s Court.

Hasapes, granddaughter of an Army vet, said the idea “took off nicely” and gained lots of support. To date, about 35 county employees have signed up to bowl. Others have simply donated money to the cause.

Ali Hasapes (left) and Lisa Neal (right)/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
“Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of it,” said Hasapes, court clerk for Judge Thomas C. Branca. “We are competing against the holidays so to everyone who has already signed up or given donations, I want to thank you for the support.”

The organizers have also set up collection boxes at two locations in the courthouse for people to donate personal care items, such as shampoo, body wash, shaving cream and toothpaste, which will be presented to veterans in gift baskets.

“I think this is just a way to show them that people care,” said Neal. “Everybody at some point in their life needs a little bit of help, no matter who they are. It shows people that society does have a heart.

“We live in such a fast-paced world that just to take the time out to say, ‘Thank you,’ it means a lot to anybody, especially men and women who have (served their country) and seen the things they’ve seen or lived through the things they’ve lived through,” Neal added.

Hasapes said the donation to “Vets for Vets” is even more poignant because it’s being made in memory of Eric J. D’Ercole, a 34-year-old popular court clerk who passed away unexpectedly on April 10 at his Phoenixville residence. D’Ercole was a graduate of St. Pius X High School and was a retired Army veteran, having served in Bravo Company 1-111th IN.

Other court employees who helped organize the event include, Monica Pokorny, Rukshanna McLauren, Anita Huber and Megan McCartin.

“It makes me feel good to help others,” echoed Neal and Hasapes.

I’m sure the veterans are appreciative of the support and gratitude. The small gathering of compassionate people will make a big impression on those you help.

I commend Neal and Hasapes for spearheading the event. You are a great example of county employees going the extra mile to help others. Your kindness and generosity should serve as an inspiration to others, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Now go out there and bowl some STRIKES!

Compliments to Montco Offices Partnering to Promote Veterans Discount ID Program

Compliments to Montgomery County Sheriff and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Sean P. Kilkenny and county Recorder of Deeds Jeanne Sorg for partnering to promote the innovative Veterans Photo Discount Card program that allows veterans to get discounts at approximately 500 local businesses.

To draw attention to the program, Kilkenny recently recorded his military discharge with the Recorder of Deeds Office and received his free veterans ID merchant discount card.

“It's great to have Sheriff Kilkenny partner with us to help spread the word about how important it is for veterans to record their discharge paperwork, so that they and their families get the benefits they have earned," said Sorg.

Montco Sheriff Sean Kilkenny/ Photo Courtesy of Sheriff's Office
The special ID cards enable veterans to receive discounts at approximately 500 Montgomery County businesses including financial service providers, food retailers, healthcare service providers, car dealerships, real estate agents, property management services and more.  Local businesses also receive the benefit of free program advertising, and building stronger relationships with local vets.

Veterans can also receive military funeral and other death benefits by recording their discharge.  So far, 8,000 of the estimated 50,000 vets in the county are registered for the discount card program, which began in 2012.

“Words of appreciation for those whom have served our country are always nice,” said Kilkenny.  “But, showing gratitude with action can be much more valuable for the vet and the business owner.”

Veterans who would like to apply for a free discount ID card can stop by the Recorder of Deeds office at One Montgomery Plaza, 3rd floor, Swede and Airy Streets, Norristown.  Applicants only need to bring their DD2-14 discharge papers and a photo ID.  Registration is free and takes approximately 15 minutes.
Montco Officials Jeanne Sorg & Sean Kilkenny/ Submitted Photo

“I'm happy to be able to provide Veterans Discount ID cards, which are good at hundreds of businesses around Montgomery County,” said Sorg.  “These cards are available thanks to donors who wish to serve our veterans.”

I'm sure that veterans throughout the county appreciate the program.

Check out the Recorder of Deeds website for more information about the program. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

President Obama on Josh Shapiro: 'Love that guy!'

Current Montgomery County Commissioner and Pennsylvania Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro was in the national spotlight Monday evening as he participated in a conference call with Democratic National Committee (DNC) members and stakeholders, to discuss the election and what’s next for the party. Shapiro was selected to introduce President Barack Obama to the national audience of Democrats.

It was a one-way call and members of the media were invited to listen in, although we did not have the opportunity to ask questions.

The president called in as Donna Brazile, interim chair of the DNC, was addressing the party faithful, applauding Obama’s “extraordinary leadership.”

“Mr. President, I was trying to tell the world how much we love you and how much you’ve done for all of us and I have with me Josh Shapiro, who just won a fantastic race in Pennsylvania and I want to turn it over to Josh to give you a proper introduction,” Brazile said.

At the mention of Shapiro’s name, Obama uttered warmly, “Love that guy!”

Josh Shapiro/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Shapiro, 43, of Abington, got right to it, quoting Obama’s second inaugural address of Jan. 21, 2013.

“In the president’s second inaugural address he said, “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, in 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.’”

Speaking just blocks from that hall, Shapiro said he wanted to “offer a little bit of solace.”

“Secretary (Hillary) Clinton won the popular vote. But you should also know that even in this battleground state, where we lost the big race, here in Pennsylvania, folks voted for an attorney general who will protect people’s rights, defend working people against a rip-off economy and secure the gains we’ve made under President Obama. And that message won more votes than any other on the ballot,” Shapiro said as Obama listened in. “In other words, this progressive voice in a competitive race in what ended up being a red state, still won.”

In Nov. 8 balloting, Shapiro had a strong showing, statewide. He received more votes than Clinton and Republican President-elect Donald J. Trump, according to unofficial results.
Shapiro told party faithful they have a voice and that it makes a difference.

“It will be heard and I encourage you to use it and to run for office and not to let our future be shaped by others, that we all must do our part,” Shapiro said. “I am keenly aware of the anxiety that many Americans feel right now and I’m determined to be a champion for Pennsylvanians. As the incoming chief law enforcement officer here in the commonwealth, I will do my part to protect people’s rights, stand up for the values that make our country strong and bring fairness to our justice system.

“But now it’s up to you to do the same for your constituents…If we hear the president’s words and each do our part to strengthen our union in our own ways and in our own communities at a grassroots level, our reach, our power and our effect will be endless,” Shapiro added.

“And so perhaps the lesson that we must draw from Tuesday is that we can’t rely on others to do this work for us. We must be the change and do our part. Scripture teaches us that no one is required to complete the task but neither are we free to refrain from it,” Shapiro added.

“This president has laid the groundwork, he has accomplished so much and his vision continues to be a North Star for many of us. I know I will be guided by it and generations of public servants will be too. We understood when the president came on the scene and we need to remember now that we are required for change to happen,” Shapiro continued.

“We knew it would take us, our work, our efforts, our voices – it wouldn’t be just done by elected leaders, it would fall to each of us. And the leader of that effort, who has shown us time and time again, the strength of the American people, of people he will always bet on and never bet against, is our President Barack Obama. And it is my huge honor to introduce him at this time to this important group at this momentous moment to say a few words to all of us. Mr. President, the line is yours. Thank you for this honor,” Shapiro concluded.

Obama replied, “Josh, thank you for the amazing introduction.”

One can assume that was an extremely proud moment for Shapiro, one I’m sure he will never forget.
Obama went on to thank his supporters, praised Clinton’s historic nomination and candidacy for taking a step toward shattering the so-called “glass ceiling” and urged the party faithful not to lose faith.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t hurt for what was an unexpected loss,” Obama said. “I was telling my team you’re allowed to mope for a week and a half, maybe two if you really need it, but after that we gotta brush ourselves off and get back to work. We gotta come together and focus on a way ahead…It means that we’re listening to each other, we’re reflecting, we’re asking tough questions, we’re respectful of different points of view.”

As a private citizen, Obama said he won’t stop “working on behalf of the things that I care about.”

“The bottom line is that, I don’t know about you all, but I’m still fired up and I’m still ready to go,” Obama concluded.

Brazile ended the call by thanking Shapiro for his “tremendous leadership.”
“I know you have a lot of work ahead, your service to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Thank you so much and I hope you’re with us as we begin our work in focusing on the future. Thank you for your great leadership as well,” Brazile said.

“Thank you, you can count on it,” Shapiro responded.

Sounds like Shapiro is “fired up and ready to go” as the state’s next attorney general. We’ll be watching.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

What's Next for Bill Cosby?

Entertainer Bill Cosby will be back in a Montgomery County courtroom next month. 

At that time, Judge Steven T. O’Neill is expected to rule on District Attorney Kevin R. Steele’s request to allow 13 other women, who accused Cosby of uncharged sexual misconduct from the 1960s through the 1990s, to testify at Cosby’s trial on charges he sexually assaulted one woman, Andrea Constand, at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.

Last week, Steele and Deputy District Attorney Robert Falin argued the women should be permitted to testify at Cosby’s trial for the alleged assault of Constand under rules governing so-called “prior bad acts” to prove Cosby engaged in a “common scheme or plan” or a so-called unique “signature” they claim is shown across the stories of his accusers. Prosecutors contend there are similarities between Cosby’s alleged prior bad conduct and Constand’s allegations.

Bill Cosby arrest photo/Courtesy Montco DA
After the hearing, it became clear the judge must decide whether he will conduct “in camera” reviews, private interviews held in a judge’s chambers, of the women. Defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle, who is trying to keep the testimony of the 13 women out of Cosby’s trial next June, wants the judge to carefully review and weigh what the other alleged accusers have to say before their testimony is permitted at trial.

“I want you to find out as gatekeeper what’s going on here. What might be wrong in Denmark,” McMonagle told O’Neill, questioning the reliability of the testimony and the motives of the 13 other women, 10 of whom he claimed are represented by high-profile, civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred, and have been paraded in front of the media.

Allred attended last week’s hearing and appeared to listen attentively as her name was brought up.
Gloria Allred/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

O'Neill sked McMonagle and co-defense lawyer Angela C. Agrusa to propose a specific plan for the judge to interview the women privately. O’Neill indicated he may or may not consider it.
Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O'Neill

Steele has already outlined the claims of each of the 13 women, some aspiring actresses and models, in court papers, keeping their identities a secret, identifying them only as “Prior Victim One through Thirteen.”

“That’s our offer of proof on what we’re asking the court to rule on,” said Steele, adding he is willing to submit redacted statements of each of the proposed witnesses to the judge to support what he already revealed in court papers.
Steele doesn’t want the redacted statements released publicly.

McMonagle said the judge should not accept the prosecution’s composite at face value, rather, the judge should review the accusers’ actual, individual stories.

Last week’s hearing abruptly turned heated when Steele lashed out at defense lawyers for publicly naming some of the women when they responded in court papers to Steele’s request to allow the 13 women to testify.
Montco DA Kevin R. Steele

“It’s another attempt to intimidate witnesses. Some of these people have not been in the press and (the defense) identified them and it’s wrong,” Steele bellowed. “They make a public filing. It’s to put it out in public, to put it out in the press.”

“I’m surprised Mr. Steele went there today. No one has done anything inappropriate. We didn’t make an unfettered disclosure of anything,” McMonagle, his voice raised, responded, claiming many of the 13 women have already held press conferences on their own.

“This is a crucial time in this courthouse and the criminal justice system,” said McMonagle, adding citizens are supposed to have the presumption of innocence. “But the pendulum has swung and I’ve never seen it swung to the point it has now.

“Someone wants to call them victims. I call them accusers. These are accusations,” McMonagle added.
Brian J. McMonagle/Photo by Carl Hessle r Jr.

McMonagle suggested the pendulum has swung to the point prosecutors can propose bringing in witnesses who have nothing to do with Constand “to attack a man’s liberty…and they want to point fingers and say that we don’t have a right to identify them?”

“The pendulum has swung,” McMonagle reiterated angrily.

One thing is certain, more legal fireworks are likely between Steele and McMonagle as Cosby's case winds its way through the court system.

Stay tuned. Cosby returns to Montgomery County Court for pretrial hearings Dec. 13 and Dec. 14. Mr. Everybody’s Business will be there.