Judge Steven O’Neill: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

judge steven o'neill

Getty Judge Steven O'Neill, left, sentenced Bill Cosby, seen in handcuffs, to 3 to 10 years in prison.

Steven O’Neill is the Pennsylvania judge presiding over the trial of Bill Cosby. On Tuesday afternoon, Judge O’Neill sentenced Cosby to three to ten years in prison, according to the Associated Press. Cosby has already been found guilty of three counts of aggravated assault in the 2004 sexual assault of Andrea Constand. Prosecutors had asked Judge O’Neill to give Cosby the toughest sentence possible, of ten years; the prosecution says that Cosby has shown no remorse and doesn’t seem to believe that he’s done anything wrong.

Cosby’s lawyers had asked that he be sentenced to house arrest, instead of serving time in prison. The defense team pointed out that Cosby is 81 and has health issues. O’Neill ordered Cosby to immediately be taken into custody, denying his attorneys request for bail pending appeal.

“This was a serious crime,” O’Neill said. “Mr. Cosby this has all circled back to you. The day has come, the time has come.”

You can watch a livestream of Cosby’s sentencing here.

Here’s what you need to know about Judge Steven O’Neill:


1. He Called Cosby a ‘Sexually Violent Predator’ & Denied Him a Chance to Be Released While His Conviction Is Appealed

During a sentencing hearing, Judge O’Neill ruled that Cosby was a “sexually violent predator.” This is not just a description of Cosby’s crime — it is a legal phrase, which will impact Cosby’s sentence.

Under Pennsylvania law, a “sexually violent predator” must undergo monthly counseling, and register with police if he moves. His neighbors, and any schools in his neighborhood, will be alerted to his presence and to his criminal history.

O’Neill surprised many by ordering Cosby to be immediately taken into custody and sent to jail, turning down the defense’s request for him to be released on bail until the appeals process is finished.

“I’ve imposed sentencing at this stage,” said O’Neill. “If you want to take it up with another court, you can.” He added, “This is a serious crime he was convicted for. This is a sexual assault crime.”

O’Neill told Cosby his celebrity status did not earn him special treatment in the courtroom.

“No one is above the law, and no one should be treated differently or disproportionally,” O’Neill told Cosby. He said he would have sentenced him the same regardless of “who or what he was,” adding, “I have given great weight to the victim impact testimony in this case, and it was powerful.”


2. O’Neill Has Been a Montgomery County Judge Since 2004

O’Neill was elected to his first ten-year term as a Montgomery County judge in 2004. He was re-elected for a second ten year term in 2014. O’Neill was first appointed tot he bench in 2002, after a career as a lawyer, working as a public prosecutor and then as a partner at Wilson, Morrow, Broderick, O’Neill & Tompkins law firm in Norristown.

O’Neill was first appointed to serve as a judge in family court. At the time, he said, “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.”


3. His Wife Works With Sexual Assault Survivors

During Cosby’s trial, the defense asked O’Neil to recuse himself from the case, because they said his wife’s work with sexual assault survivors would be a conflict for the judge.

His wife, Dr. Deborah O’Neill, is a psychotherapist at the University of Pennsylvania. She heads up a team that works with students who have survived sexual assaults. She reportedly dedicated her dissertation on college-acquaintance rape to her husband.

When he was asked to recuse himself, Judge O’Neill replied that his wife is an “independent” person and that the request was an insult to her. He said, “She is an independent woman and has the right to be involved in anything she believes in. In the early years of our marriage she was dedicated to raising our children, then to raising herself up. It’s difficult to have her accomplishments trivialized.”

O’Neill and his wife have three grown children.


4. He Really Likes St Patrick’s Day

O’Neill was described as a ‘regular guy’ who was well-liked by courthouse staff when he was sworn in as judge in 2002. A friend of O’Neill’s said that O’Neill had won people’s friendship with his cheerful attitude and his warmth. He also said O’Neill dressed up as St Patrick every year on St Patrick’s Day; dressed in his costume, O’Neill made it a habit to visit every government building in the area.

Just after being sworn in, O’Neill said that many people were asking him whether he intended to continue whistling as he walks down the courthouse’s hallways, whether he intended to keep his beard and whether he would wear his St. Patrick’s Day costume next year.

“My answer to all three is, ‘Yes,'” said O’Neill. “I’m fulfilling a dream, not changing who I am.”


5. He Graduated from Drexel University

O’Neill earned his law degree from Villanova University School of Law. He did his undergraduate degree at Drexel University.

O’Neill was an Assistant District Attorney for Montgomery County from 1979 to 1984. He also spent 18 years in private practice working as a defense lawyer. Before being appointed to the bench, O’Neill served as Solicitor of Montgomery County, and was also the solicitor of the Zoning Hearing Boards of Lower Merion Township and Upper Merion Township.

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