Saturday, June 10, 2017

Cosby Trial Cellphone Woes: "Does That Make Me Crazy?"

Reporting From Bill Cosby Trial/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Cellphones have been the source of woe for Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill and court administrators at Bill Cosby’s sex assault trial as they try to enforce the restrictions set by a decorum order imposed by President Judge Thomas M. DelRicci.

“Really?” O’Neill muttered incredulously when a courtroom spectator’s cellphone ringtone blared and the song “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley swelled in the courtroom. “Turn off the phones! They will be confiscated.”
Judge Steven T. O'Neill/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

That cellphone ringtone was perfect for that moment. “Does that make me crazy?” the lyrics go. I imagine O’Neill was saying to himself, “YES!”

Under the previously issued decorum order, all cellphones must be turned off and out of sight in the courtroom.

But just as Brian J. McMonagle began delivering his opening statement to jurors on Monday, someone’s cellphone ringtone blared with a different song, something I didn’t recognize.

Brian J. McMonagle/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“I brought music to the courtroom,” McMonagle said lightheartedly as he shrugged the moment off, not letting the interruption affect his composure or his well-executed opening delivery.

And despite numerous daily admonitions from the judge throughout the trial, a Cosby supporter sitting in the front row of the courtroom used his cellphone to snap a photograph. Angry court administrators immediately chastised the man and required him on the spot to delete the photograph from his cellphone.

There is a Pennsylvania law that prohibits photographing and videotaping court proceedings. Some of us veteran court reporters roll our eyes each time O’Neill reiterates the NO CELLPHONE POLICY but then low-and-behold another cellphone goes off.  So I understand, to a certain extent, the judge’s endless nagging about the issue to spectators.

The cellphone disruptions have come mainly from the public and not media members.

Gloria Allred/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Well-known celebrity and civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred created several stirs, her phone ringing twice during the first week of the trial in main Courtroom A. On Wednesday Allred’s cellphone rang during the testimony of alleged Cosby victim, Andrea Constand. Court administrators asked her to leave.

During an interview outside the courthouse, a reporter asked Allred, “What happened in court with your cellphone?”

“Oh, that’s what’s really important to the outcome of this case,” said Allred, shrugging off the reporter’s question. “It’s not on my radar. What’s on my radar is justice in this case.”

Later Allred told Associated Press reporters she believed her phone had been turned off and was baffled by the incident that garnered some unwanted attention. Allred’s phone appeared to be out of sight and in her purse when it rang.

Allred, 75, was permitted back in the courtroom later in the day. But on Friday, Allred’s cellphone blared again. Apparently, recognizing her mistake again she got up to leave as a court administrator was storming down the center aisle of the courtroom in her direction, likely prepared to ask her to leave again.

Gloria Allred/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Allred has been a constant presence at the Cosby trial and she represents many of the 13 other alleged Cosby accusers that prosecutors sought to have included at the trial.

Allred has often stepped to a podium outside the courthouse to address the press during breaks at the trial.

Also on Wednesday, local NBC10 Digital reporter Brian McCrone was stripped of his credentials to cover the Cosby trial after court officials said he sent a text message while the trial was in session. McCrone was taken before President Judge Thomas M. DelRicci, who accepted his apology but nonetheless barred him from the courtroom.

Under the decorum order issued for the Cosby trial, all electronic transmissions from the courtroom are prohibited.

According to testimony, McCrone stipulated that he violated the decorum order that was issued on May 18. But DelRicci appeared annoyed when McCrone’s lawyer hinted at wanting to make a First Amendment argument in connection with the matter.

President Judge Thomas DelRicci/Submitted Photo

DelRicci, who apparently had a photograph of the text message, said it wasn’t a First Amendment issue but “a protocol issue.” The judge said media members received specific instructions as to what was and what wasn’t permitted at the trial. The judge also questioned why, if someone had a problem with the May 18 decorum order, it wasn’t raised earlier.

According to testimony, the text message in question was “innocuous” and not associated with what was occurring at the trial at the time.

Stay tuned. I’ll have daily reports for Digital First Media publications when the trial resumes on Monday. You can also find breaking Cosby news by following @MontcoCourtNews on Twitter.


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