Lawyers for Bill Cosby and Pennsylvania prosecutors clashed angrily in court on Tuesday over whether the defense team is deliberately trying to intimidate women who have accused the entertainer of sexual assault.
The hearing in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, is focused on whether prosecutors can call 13 female accusers as witnesses at Cosby's criminal sexual assault trial next year.
Cosby's reputation as a family-friendly comedian has been shredded by sexual assault accusations from around 50 women going back decades. Thus far, the Pennsylvania case is the only criminal prosecution he faces, based on allegations from a woman named Andrea Constand, though he is fighting multiple civil lawsuits. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven O'Neill has scheduled two days to consider arguments on the issue.
If prosecutors are successful, Cosby, 79, would face a parade of witnesses portraying him as a serial predator at trial, rather than a single woman testifying about a decade-old encounter fueled by drugs and alcohol.
Cosby's defense lawyer, Brian McMonagle, brought thick notebooks on Tuesday containing various statements the women have made that he said would show their accounts of assault cannot be relied upon.
The lead prosecutor, Kevin Steele, accused McMonagle of including the women's names to intimidate them, raising his voice repeatedly.
But McMonagle said most of the women have come forward publicly, either by speaking to reporters or filing lawsuits against Cosby.
At one point, O'Neill admonished the lawyers not to shout at each other and added, "That isn't civil."
Constand, a former basketball coach at Cosby's alma mater Temple University, has accused him of drugging her with pills and wine in 2004 at his home before sexually assaulting her.
Prosecutors have chosen 13 other women whose accounts bear striking similarities to Constand's story, describing Cosby's efforts to establish a rapport first before using drugs to incapacitate them.
Typically, prosecutors cannot introduce evidence of unrelated "prior bad acts," because it could prejudice jurors against a defendant. But state law allows an exception in rare cases if the previous instances show a longstanding pattern of behavior.
O'Neill has already ruled that prosecutors can use sworn testimony Cosby gave in 2005 in which he said he gave women Quaaludes before engaging in consensual sexual acts.
Cosby, who has been described as blind by his lawyers, walked into court with the help of an aide.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Sandra Maler and Tom Brown)