NORRISTOWN, Pa. — A judge admonished lawyers on both sides of Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case Tuesday after a courtroom shouting match over the defense team’s practice of publicizing the names of the women accusing the comedian of sexual assault.
Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill denounced the outburst as uncivil. It came at the start of what is expected to be a two-day hearing on whether prosecutors will be allowed to call 13 accusers as trial witnesses, a key part of their strategy to show the 79-year-old Cosby had a decades-long habit of drugging and molesting women.
Cosby’s lawyers want the accusers barred from testifying at his trial on charges that he sexually assaulted a woman at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. The defense was expected to attack their credibility and relevance as they try to keep them off the witness stand.
They encountered an early setback Tuesday when O’Neill refused to hear from one of their experts, Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist who has questioned the reliability of eyewitness and witness memory. The judge said Loftus wouldn’t help him decide if the accusers can testify but added she might be allowed to take the stand at Cosby’s trial next year.
The high-stakes hearing was testy from the start, as District Attorney Kevin Steele clashed with Cosby lawyer Brian McMonagle over the defense’s insistence on identifying accusers by name in public documents and a court hearing.
Steele became enraged when McMonagle argued that prosecutors had provided him with the names of the accusers. Arguing that the names were disclosed during the pretrial discovery process and were not part of the public record, Steele suggested that Cosby’s lawyers were publicizing them in an attempt to intimidate the women.
McMonagle said many of them had already gone public with their allegations.
“These are witnesses in a trial. They are not children,” McMonagle argued.
O’Neill ultimately ruled Cosby’s lawyers could identify 11 of the women by name. He said two of the women have remained out of the spotlight and shouldn’t be identified in court.
The defense asserts they should be removed altogether from the case, which began a decade ago when Temple University employee Andrea Constand filed a police complaint against Cosby, her friend and mentor, over an encounter at his home. 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 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.
Cosby’s lawyers had hoped to question the women in person, but O’Neill rejected the idea.