Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Cosby Saga - Episode One

It was the biggest show in town last week when entertainer Bill Cosby came to the Montgomery County Courthouse for his first hearing on alleged sexual assault charges – his request to dismiss the case.
Montgomery County Courthouse/photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

It was episode one in what is likely to be a lengthy, hard-fought legal drama.

“I think the only thing we can agree on is there is no case quite like this. It’s an extraordinary case,” Christopher Tayback, one of Cosby’s lawyers said during the hearing.

Mr. Everybody's Business had a front row seat. Here's some of the things you didn't see in print.

The first act unfolded as Cosby’s defense team, led by Brian J. McMonagle, called former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. as its star witness, a formidable, locally familiar crime fighter and political leader known for his unflinching confidence. Dressed in a pinstriped suit, Castor, squeezing his 6-foot 3-inch frame into the witness box, claimed he entered into a binding declaration with Cosby’s lawyers in 2005 that Cosby would never be charged with sexually assaulting a woman in his Cheltenham home.

What was expected to be a showdown between onetime political rivals Castor and current District Attorney Kevin R. Steele never materialized, as co-prosecutor Stewart Ryan was assigned to cross-exam Castor. Ryan, with only three years under his belt in the office, certainly proved his mettle in what appeared at times as a battle of wits between two legal eagles, one seasoned and the other a rising star.

Bruce L. Castor Jr./Photo courtesy of Castor
The back and forth was riveting to watch.

For example, at one point, Ryan recited a quote attributed to Castor in a published news article.

Ryan: "And it says, 'At a news conference Wednesday, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor said Cosby is fully cooperating.''

Castor (quickly correcting Ryan): "It actually says 'Bruce L. Castor Jr.'”

Ryan (not missing a beat): "I apologize to you and your father.”
Castor: "I don't think he's going to hear this."

A short time later Castor, while responding to a question put to him by Ryan, said, “Sir, your name is Mr. Riley?”
“No, it’s Mr. Ryan,” Ryan corrected Castor.

At times the "Cosby Show” became the “Castor Show.”

Ryan showed Castor a recent news article that quoted Castor and described him as “chuckling nervously.”
“I can't recall ever chuckling nervously in my life,” Castor quipped.

During an intense cross-examination by Ryan, Castor was pummeled with questions about a February 2005 press release he issued that announced his decision not to charge Cosby.

Castor: "I made it absolute in the press release."
Ryan: "Please, tell me in the press release where you made it absolute."
Castor (appearing agitated): "I will if you quiet down and let me look at it."

There were other humorous moments.

McMonagle’s questioning of Castor began with his asking the former district attorney about his experience and the awards he’d received as a prosecutor from victim’s groups, etc.

“Your honor, there would be so many, I don’t think I’d be able to do it without seeing my CV (curriculum vitae),” Castor said, eliciting snickers from some of the estimated 200 spectators who were in the courtroom.

On a large screen in the courtroom, McMonagle projected a biography entitled “Bruce’s Story,” which outlined Castor’s career. McMonagle then asked Castor how significant were the murder convictions he had obtained during his years as a prosecutor.
“Well, they certainly were significant to the people who were dead,” Castor quipped, again eliciting some laughter from spectators.
Assistant District Attorney Stewart Ryan/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Ryan cross-examined Castor about statements he gave to the news media regarding the Cosby case since 2005. Ryan implied Castor made inconsistent statements over the years and Castor suggested he had been misquoted many times in the press or had never seen the published reports.

During one exchange, Ryan questioned Castor about an article, which, according to testimony I authored, entitled, “Cosby meets with authorities over sex assault allegations,” which was published in The Mercury on Jan. 27, 2005.

Ryan: “Now do you see at the bottom of this document there appears to be a web address? Is that right?”
Castor: “It does appear to be a web address. We started with pencils and typewriters, so I’m not that savvy.”
Ryan: “I’ll try not to push your knowledge on technology, but this web address is Are you familiar with that web address?”
Castor: “Yeah.”
Ryan: “And that’s for the Pottstown Mercury newspaper, correct?”
Castor: “Yes. And Carl Hessler is still here today. I think I saw him.”
Ryan (As he pointed in my direction): “He’s right there in the front row.”
Castor: “He looks a little older.” (Eliciting laughter from spectators)
Ryan: “You certainly wouldn’t catch me saying that.” (Eliciting more laughter)

"Older?" If there was ever a time I felt like standing up in a courtroom and shouting, “Objection,” it was at that time. 

All kidding aside, aren't we all a little older than in 2005? One of my colleagues leaned over to me and stated, “You should tell him (Castor) he’s no spring chicken either.”

Ryan then directed Castor to the specific quote attributed to Castor in The Mercury article.

Ryan: “Do you recall making that statement?”
Castor: “No.”
Ryan: “Would you have any reason to believe that Mr. Hessler, there in the front row, would have misquoted you about that?”
Castor: “He usually gets it right.”
Ryan: “I think so too.”

A short time later the exchange went like this:

Castor: "I'm much more likely to recall interviews from the local press corps than national or international press corps because I know the reporters."
Ryan: "Well, you failed to remember that one from Carl Hessler earlier. We can agree about that, right?"
Castor: "I said I was much more likely. And I also said that he's likely to get it right."

“Whew,” I thought to myself after that exchange, while at the same time wanting to crawl under the courtroom bench on which I was seated.

Ryan then asked Castor about an article that appeared in the Washington Post.

Ryan: "Are you familiar with the Washington Post?"
Castor: "No."
Ryan: "You're not familiar with the Washington Post?"
Castor: "Well, if you're asking me if I ever read the Washington Post, the answer is No. If you're asking if I ever heard of it, Yeah."

Another reporter from out of town approached me later and said, “Oh, that’s you they were talking about? I guess that’s the only paper he reads.”

Castor claimed his non-prosecution promise was made to create an atmosphere that would induce Cosby to testify in the alleged victim’s civil litigation against Cosby and allow the woman to prevail civilly and “make a lot of money.”
“Let’s be clear, Mr. McMonagle, I’m not on your team here. I want them to win," Castor flatly told McMonagle, surprising every one in the courtroom.
William H. Cosby Jr./Courtesy Montco DA's Office

Finally, I don’t know if it was a slip of the tongue or on purpose, but Dolores Troiani, the civil lawyer representing Cosby’s alleged victim, used the name of Cosby’s alter ego, his character from "The Cosby Show," when she testified she wasn’t confident in Castor’s ability to handle the Cosby prosecution in 2005 and downplayed Castor’s excuses for not prosecuting Cosby.

“We felt he was not going to alienate those fans of Dr. Huxtable,” said Troiani.

Stay tuned, Episode Two of the Cosby Saga is right around the corner.


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