Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Judge Steven T. O’Neill is the judge presiding over Bill Cosby‘s indecent assault trial. O’Neill has been presiding over the case since Cosby was arrested in December 2015 for the alleged 2004 assault of Andrea Constand.
Cosby’s legacy has forever been tarnished since October 2014, when comedian Hannibal Burress’ stand-up joke directing his audience to look up past sexual harassment and rape allegations against the famous entertainer. Throughout 2015, dozens of women came forward, accusing Cosby of sexual harassment dating back to the 1960s. Many of the allegations fall outside of the statute of limitations, so the Constand case is the only one that has come to trial.
Cosby was accused of sexually assaulting Constad, who was working for Temple University’s basketball team at the time, in January 2004. In 2006, he reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit and no charges were filed. In December 2015 though, Cosby was charged with three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault. The trial began on June 5, 2017. O’Neill believes the trial will only last two weeks.
Here is what you need to know about the 63-year-old O’Neill.
1. O’Neill Barred All Communication Devices During the Trial & Won’t Let it Be Televised
In May 2017, O’Neill and fellow Montgomery County Judge Thomas DeRicci ruled that the Cosby trial will not be shown live on television and barred all communication devices from being used. In other words, don’t expect it to be live streamed or live-tweeted by reporters in the courtroom.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the judges ruled that anyone who violates the orders could be held in contempt of court, so they could face a fine or jail time. There will even be someone monitoring cell phone use during the trial.
There will be pool cameras for video footage and photographs, but photographers will only be able to take pictures of people coming to and from the courtroom. The trial will only be filmed on behalf of the people sitting in an auxiliary room. There will be 120 journalists in the courtroom itself.
2. He Ruled That Cosby’s Damaging 2005 Deposition can Be Used as Evidence Against Him
Before the trial, Cosby’s attorneys tried several motions to help the comedian. Last fall, they hoped to get O’Neill to toss the 2005 deposition Cosby gave for Constad’s civil lawsuit. USA Today notes that Cosby’s attorneys argued that Cosby only gave the deposition because he believed he was promised he’d never be criminally charged in the case. O’Neill didn’t buy it and wrote that the deposition can be used against Cosby.
“Because there was no promise, there can be no reliance on the part of the defendant and principles of fundamental fairness and due process have not been violated,” O’Neill wrote. “This court finds there is no Constitutional barrier to the use of the defendant’s civil deposition testimony.”
The deposition was unsealed and made public in 2015, which inspired Montgomery County prosecutors to arrest Cosby. You can read the entire deposition here.
In the deposition, Cosby is interviewed by Constad’s lawyer. The Cosby Show star goes on to explain how he thought the sexual encounter with Constad was consensual. He also admits to obtaining drugs to give too women during sexual encounters. In many of the accusations, women have claimed Cosby drugged them and raped them.
As CNN notes, O’Neill did bar prosecutors from including testimony from 13 other women because that would be “too prejudicial.” However, one accuser, Kelly Johnson, will be allowed to testify. Cosby himself is not expected to take the stand.
3. O’Neill Was First Elected to the Court in 2004 & Re-Elected in 2014
O’Neill was elected to his first 10-year term as a judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in 2004. Burlington County Times reports that he was appointed to the bench two years before. O’Neill was re-elected to serve a second 10-year term in 2014.
According to The Reporter Online, O’Neill was a former partner at the Wilson, Morrow, Broderick, O’Neill & Tompkins law firm in Norristown. He also worked as a county prosecutor. When he was first appointed, the Villanova University graduate was put on the family court.
“During my tenure as a family court judge, I will seek in every case in which children are involved to keep the family together while divorcing the parents in an expeditious and civilized manner,” O’Neill told the Reporter Online in 2002. “This can be done, but it must start with the parents and must be reinforced by the lawyers, who must put aside their adversarial urge to win and, finally, it must be supervised by the judge.”
O’Neill is married, with three adult children.
4. O’Neill Is a Republican
O’Neill has run for election as a Republican and has been successful both times. As The Mercury News reported in 2003, O’Neill ran unopposed in a Republican primary and was supported by the state GOP. The Montgomery Bar Association’s judiciary committee gave O’Neill a “highly recommended” rating before his first election.
Back in 1998, O’Neill ran for Montgomery County District Attorney, notes The Morning Call, even though the Republicans already had a candidate in the running. At the time, O’Neill said he wouldn’t run for another office if the Republicans didn’t nominate him.
O’Neill wasn’t successful, as Bruce L. Castor Jr. was nominated and became the next D.A. for Montgomery County. Coincidentally, it was Castor who declined to prosecute Cosby in 2005. Castor was the acting Attorney General of Pennsylvania in August 2016.
5. O’Neill Also Presides Over the Montgomery County Drug Treatment Court, Which Provides Treatment Instead of Jail for Non-Violent Offenders
In April 2006, O’Neill began presiding over the newly-established Montgomery County Treatment Court. In January 2017, the court was awarded accreditation by the Supreme court of Pennsylvania. The court aims to help non-violent drug offenders by sentencing them to court-supervised treatment programs instead of jail time. Of the 415 graduates, 70 percent have not been arrested again.
““When I started the drug court, I knew it was the right thing to do. Accreditation means we are doing the right thing. Offering a hand up, offering treatment and recovery as opposed to incarceration for people who suffer a life claiming disease was the right thing to do,” O’Neill said when he was presented with the accreditation certificate, notes the Times Herald.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin M. Dougherty called O’Neill a man with a “heart of gold,” adding, “Job well done. Montgomery County citizens, you don’t know how fortunate you are to have people who truly care about the way of life in this county.”
“You are now as a result of the leadership you’ve demonstrated affecting the lives of people all across our commonwealth because they seek to emulate what you’ve done here. We could not be more proud of the work that your team has done,” county commissioners’ Chairman Josh Shapiro told O’Neill in 2016, notes the Mercury News.