Judge won't remove himself from Bill Cosby's sexual assault retrial
Actor Bill Cosby speaks at the National Action Network's 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York April 6, 2011. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

The judge presiding over U.S. comedian Bill Cosby’s trial for sexual assault on Thursday rejected a defense request that he remove himself from the trial because his wife is an advocate for sexual assault victims.

“She’s an independent woman and has a right to be involved in anything she believes in,” Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill said in court.

O’Neill is hearing two days of arguments on legal motions that will shape the second trial of Cosby, 80, who faces accusations of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, 44, at his home near Philadelphia between Dec. 30, 2003, and Jan. 20, 2004.

 Cosby’s first trial ended in June with a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict following six days of deliberations.

The entertainer had been best known as the wise and witty dad in the 1980s TV hit “The Cosby Show” before more than 50 women came forward to accuse him of sexually assaulting them in incidents dating back decades. All those accusations but Constand’s were too old to be the subject of prosecution.

Cosby has denied criminal wrongdoing, saying any sexual contact he had was consensual.

His defense team sought the judge’s recusal because his wife, Deborah O’Neill, made a $100 donation to a feminist group at the University of Pennsylvania sponsoring the annual V-Day activities that take place at many college campuses, often including a production of the play “The Vagina Monologues.”

Deborah O’Neill is a psychotherapist at Penn who coordinates a group that helps sexual assault victims.

“Put yourself in our shoes,” defense counsel Thomas Mesereau told the judge. “Understandably, we are concerned.”

The judge said he researched the donation and found it was made by his wife with university funds, not “marital assets.”

O’Neill also must rule on whether some witnesses will be allowed to testify at the retrial, which is scheduled for April 2.

Cosby’s lawyers want to call as a witness Margo Jackson, who worked with Constand at Temple University, and had said that the former administrator for the school’s basketball team said she could make money by accusing a celebrity of drugging and assaulting her.

In the first trial, O’Neill ruled Jackson’s testimony was inadmissible because it was hearsay but now is reconsidering with further information about what she heard.

 Prosecutors will ask O’Neill to exclude information from Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele’s 2015 election campaign, in which he promised to revive the Cosby criminal case.

Reporting by David DeKok; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott