Who’s defending Bill Cosby? A look at his criminal team
Philadelphia — At his only criminal court appearance to date, aging TV icon Bill Cosby stumbled past a scrum of photographers while two lawyers held him up on either side, walking him into a suburban Philadelphia courtroom.
The attorneys hired to defend Cosby in the sex-assault case are a study in contrasts:
— Outsider Monique Pressley, a lawyer-turned-TV legal analyst with side jobs as a pastor, motivational speaker and radio host, who got a taste of the limelight as a law student, posing a question about race in the O.J. Simpson trial on CNN’s Larry King Live.
— Insider Brian McMonagle, a revered local criminal lawyer whose past clients include mobsters, rappers, athletes and — in a case with some parallels to Cosby’s — the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia during the searing priest-pedophile scandal.
“He takes a very, very aggressive posture, but does it in a diplomatic and smooth fashion. It’s almost like an iron fist in a velvet glove. He is a strong advocate for his client, but can break tension with a quip or a joke,” said fellow Philadelphia criminal lawyer William J. Brennan. “Mr. Cosby is lucky to have him.”
McMonagle, 57, is expected to lead the defense arguments inside the courtroom when Cosby, 78, returns to court Feb. 2 in a crucial bid to have the case dismissed. He will attack the 12-year delay to file charges, the use of Cosby’s deposition from accuser Andrea Constand’s civil case, and the government’s plan to call other accusers to show a pattern of behavior.
But Pressley will be the lawyer people see on TV in their living rooms.
Pressley, 45, was plucked from relative obscurity to lead the sprawling flock of lawyers Cosby has deployed to fight sex-assault and defamation battles in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California, involving some of the dozens of women who accuse him of drugging and molesting them. After stints as both a prosecutor and public defender in Washington, D.C., she was doing TV commentary on the case when she impressed someone in the Cosby camp last fall.
“She’s got his confidence,” said celebrity defense lawyer Mark Geragos. “Obviously, you can’t diminish the fact that you would want a female on the defense team. You’re going to have female after female coming up and accusing him. … And race is always a subtext in the criminal justice system.”
Pressley, who is black, could boost Cosby’s battered standing in the black community. McMonagle, who is white, may play to jurors in mostly white Montgomery County.
Pressley has taken to the airwaves to blast accusers who come forward decades later to “persecute” someone. And she dismissed an FBI study that found only a tiny fraction of rape accusations are proved false.
“How many people of influence and means have been the victims of extortion attempts? How many women — and men — have been willing to offer up their bodies on a casting couch?” she asked in a Huffington Post Live interview that earned raves for her poise under fire.
Constand, now 42, went to police in 2005 to report that Cosby had drugged and violated her a year earlier at his home near Philadelphia. Cosby called the contact consensual.
McMonagle will argue that a former prosecutor forged a deal that Cosby would never be prosecuted and could therefore testify, without invoking his right not to incriminate himself, in Constand’s later civil suit. In the deposition, unsealed last year, Cosby detailed his romantic interest in Constand, who is gay; his pursuit of other young women during his long marriage; and his use of quaaludes in the 1970s as a seduction tool. He settled with Constand soon afterward.
Incoming District Attorney Kevin Steele pondered that testimony, along with the dozens of new accusers, and decided to charge Cosby weeks before the 12-year deadline expired this month. He has said there is no evidence that Cosby had an immunity deal with former prosecutor Bruce Castor.
McMonagle has pulled off wins in cases no less difficult.
He unearthed a lab error in a drug-linked date rape case involving a local GOP official; helped persuade authorities not to charge future NBA standout Tyreke Evans as an accessory in a fatal 2007 shooting; and helped Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua avoid testifying in open court in the priest sex-abuse case.
The elderly Bevilacqua died before a loyal aide was convicted in 2012 of keeping the church’s sordid secrets under lock and key. Monsignor William Lynn has spent two years in prison while appeals courts debate the fairness of the trial, including the testimony of 21 church accusers his lawyers calls peripheral to the case.
McMonagle and Pressley will likewise press to keep other Cosby accusers from testifying. McMonagle declined to comment for this article, while Pressley did not return messages seeking comment.
“Anybody who thinks that you can just ignore the media, it’s kind of a quaint thought,” Geragos said of Cosby’s two-prong legal strategy. “There’s a trial inside the courtroom — but you don’t want to be in a position where you can’t find a jury willing to acquit him.”