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Cosby Seeks Judge's Recusal Due to Judge's Wife's Work

By George Khoury, Esq. on March 26, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In what appears to be a long-shot motion, Bill Cosby's attorneys filed a request for the trial judge to recuse himself due to his wife's views and work supporting survivors of sexual assault. And, as one might expect, reports seem to indicate that this won't go over well.

While this generally is not cause for recusal, Cosby's legal team is hoping to take this issue nuclear. They have requested that the issue be certified for immediate appeal if the recusal motion is denied. The prosecution believes this is simply another delay tactic.

Any Excuse to Recuse

Notably, Cosby's attorneys explain that Judge Steven O'Neill's wife, Deborah O'Neill, works as a social worker for the University of Pennsylvania. Her work involves supporting and advocating for students that have experienced sexual assault. She leads the Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention Program. Additionally, it is known that she has donated money to a group that donated money to another group that plans to protest outside the courthouse once Cosby's retrial begins. As Cosby's team argues, Judge O'Neill's has also consistently ruled in a way that shows bias in favor of sexual assault victims.

However, judges are generally not required to recuse themselves over their spousal or familial affiliations unless there is a financial interest in the case. Common examples would include where a judge's spouse is a member of a firm handling a case before them, or has a direct financial tie to one of the litigants.

Typically, a judge's spouse's political or social viewpoints are not attributed to the judge. As pointed out by The New York Times, some years ago when Prop 8 was working its way through the courts, Ninth Circuit Justice Reinhardt penned the following poignant remark in response to a similar request to recuse due to the fact that his wife worked for the ACLU:

"My wife's views, public or private, as to any issues that may come before this court, constitutional or otherwise, are of no consequence. She is a strong, independent woman who has long fought for the principle, among others, that women should be evaluated on their own merits and not judged in any way by the deeds or position in life of their husbands (and vice versa)."

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