Temple’s Board of Trustees chairman Patrick O’Connor could be called in Cosby trial, judge says

O’Connor could be called if Montgomery Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven T. O’Neill decides to allow Cosby’s 2005 civil suit into evidence, he said in court on Thursday.

Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O'Connor (center) could be called to testify at Bill Cosby's retrial to begin April 9. | ANDREW THAYER TTN FILE PHOTO

UPDATED at 8:16 p.m.

University Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor could possibly be called as a witness at Bill Cosby’s sexual assault retrial on April 9.

At a pretrial hearing on Thursday, Cosby’s defense announced they seek to enter the details of the 2005 civil suit settlement agreement between former Temple employee Andrea Constand, the central accuser in the case, and Cosby into evidence — which has never been publicly available.

O’Connor could be called as a witness because he represented Cosby during the civil suit, said Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven T. O’Neill. The defense will likely question Constand on the stand about the settlement.

O’Connor’s relationship with Cosby has been subject to backlash by student activist organizations like Temple’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance. At a Board meeting earlier this month, FMLA members called out O’Connor for defending Cosby in the civil suit and were escorted out.

A spokesperson for the university declined to comment.

Read about O’Connor and Cosby’s relationship

It’s unclear if O’Neill will make this decision before jury selection begins Monday.

Prosecutor M. Stewart Ryan said the prosecution will object if the negotiation details of the settlement are not included.

The hearing began with concerns from the defense about an appearance of bias in the case due to O’Neill’s spouse’s alleged donations to Women Organized Against Rape, a Philadelphia-based sexual violence crisis center, in February 2017.

WOAR announced plans earlier this month that it will host protests outside of the Montgomery County Courthouse during Cosby’s retrial.

The defense said this donation and his wife’s work with survivors of sexual assault show partiality. Deborah O’Neill, the judge’s spouse, is a clinical social worker at the University of Pennsylvania’s counseling center specializing in sexual trauma.

O’Neill said the donations to WOAR were made by his wife’s department and that no marital assets were used.

“She’s an independent woman and has a right to be involved in anything she believes in,” O’Neill said in an emotional remark to the court. “She has passionate and firmly held independent views and perspectives.”

The defense also said they will call Marguerite Jackson, a Boyer College of Music and Dance academic adviser who alleges Constand told her she could falsely accuse a celebrity of sexual assault to extort money around the time of the alleged assault, as a witness.

Becky James, one of Cosby’s attorneys, said this statement shows Constand’s “state of mind.”

“Her state of mind she expressed to Ms. Jackson is that she had the motive to make a false accusation and by doing so, she could make money,” James said.

Constand previously said Jackson’s name sounded familiar, but couldn’t recall ever meeting her.

Prosecutor Kristen Gibbons Feden said Constand’s alleged statement to Jackson is irrelevant due to the unclear timeframe of the comment, and their belief that this conversation did not occur.

Another pretrial hearing will occur on Friday morning.

For jury selection, 170 Montgomery County residents will be summoned for jury duty for the retrial on Monday, O’Neill said.

The trial will started regardless of when jury selection ends next week, wrote Lisa Strohl, an executive assistant from Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, Monday evening. Jurors will likely be sequestered until the trial begins.  

Cosby is charged with three counts of aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting Constand in his Montgomery County Home in 2005.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to include the university declining to comment.

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