The Pennsylvania judge scheduled to sentence Bill Cosby next week declined on Wednesday to step away from the case, saying that a defense motion stating he had feuded with a key witness and should recuse himself came too late and was “wholly without merit.”
The judge, Steven T. O’Neill of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, presided over the trial earlier this year that ended with Mr. Cosby being found guilty of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home near Philadelphia in 2004. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
Mr. Cosby’s lawyer, Joseph P. Green, argued that Judge O’Neill should recuse himself, saying he had failed to disclose a bitter quarrel he had with the witness, Bruce L. Castor Jr., while both men were seeking the Republican nomination for county district attorney 20 years ago.
In 2016 Mr. Castor testified at a pretrial hearing that as district attorney in 2005 he had pledged not to prosecute Mr. Cosby because he thought the Constand case lacked sufficient evidence. Judge O’Neill, however, ruled that he did not find that pledge binding on the current district attorney, Kevin R. Steele, who brought criminal charges against Mr. Cosby in the case.
Mr. Green, citing the judge’s prior interactions with Mr. Castor, asked him to vacate that 2016 ruling and remove himself from any further proceedings. The judge cited several grounds in rejecting the motion.
“First, the motion is untimely and, thus, waived,” Judge O’Neill wrote in his decision. “Even if this unsubstantiated claim, raised on the eve of sentencing, is not waived, it is facially meritless.”
Mr. Green contended in court papers that the men had had an “acrimonious” relationship since Mr. Castor, in his effort to win the nomination, had sought to rattle Mr. O’Neill during a debate between them. Mr. Castor, then a top executive in the district attorney’s office, did so by ordering a woman in the office who had once dated Mr. O’Neill to show up at the event. Mr. O’Neill, then in private practice, angrily confronted Mr. Castor later about the matter, Mr. Green wrote.
But in his ruling Wednesday, the judge dismissed the assertion that the events of the political campaign had continued to poison his relationship with Mr. Castor. Noting he has been on the bench since 2002, Judge O’Neill pointed out that Mr. Castor, as district attorney from 2002 to 2008, had any number of matters before him and had not ascribed any prejudice to him. Since then, he continued, Mr. Castor had appeared in front of him as a criminal defense lawyer and had never sought his disqualification.
“No ‘grudge,’ animus, bias or prejudice can be claimed,” he wrote. “Because it simply does not exist.”
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Castor did not address his relationship with the judge but appeared to question the new account of their interactions.
“I do not recollect appearing before Judge O’Neill as a lawyer in any capacity,” he said. “I certainly never appeared before him in a contested matter.”