Bill Cosby, Appealing Conviction, Hires 12th Firm and 20th Lawyer – New York Times

Bill Cosby, Appealing Conviction, Hires 12th Firm and 20th Lawyer

Bill Cosby employed a large number of lawyers in a three-year effort to avoid prison on sexual assault charges. From left top, Angela C. Agrusa, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., Christopher Tayback, Sam Silver, Monique Pressley, Joseph Green, Kathleen Bliss, Brian J. McMonagle, Lane L. Vines.CreditCreditTop row, from left, Kena Betancur/AFP-Getty Images; Tracie Van Auken/EPA, via Shutterstock; Pool Photo by Clem Murray; second row, from left, Matt Rourke/Associated Press; Mark Makela/Reuters; Brendan Smialowski/AFP-Getty Images; bottom row, from left, pool photo by Mark Makela; Matt Rourke/Associated Press; Matt Slocum/Associated Press
  • Oct. 22, 2018

The Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer who helped Bill Cosby secure a mistrial in 2017.


The West Coast lawyer who helped on that case. Gone.

The famous Los Angeles lawyer who replaced them. Gone.

The eight other law firms who at some point in the last three years worked unsuccessfully to keep Mr. Cosby out of prison. Gone. Gone. All gone.

Earlier this month, the two lawyers hired to handle Mr. Cosby’s sentencing and appeal left the team.

How many were pushed out? Did some just quit?

The 17 lawyers from 11 firms will not discuss their departures in any detail, so it’s unclear. The firm of one lawyer, Sam Silver, who withdrew before Mr. Cosby’s second criminal trial, has sued Mr. Cosby for nonpayment.

While there are good reasons someone might decide to change lawyers like shirts, it’s certainly unusual and often indicative of rifts, like a dispute over tactics, experts said. And it most often happens in cases with high-profile clients who have lots of money and expectations, especially if it’s a case laden with emotion.

Patricia Duff, a multimillionaire Democratic fund-raiser, went through 21 law firms in the 1990s while locked into a divorce and child custody battle with her ex-husband, the billionaire Revlon chairman Ronald O. Perelman.

“The personality of the client tends to be very demanding and sometimes difficult so they may be hard to please,” said Dan Kornstein, the chairman of the legal history committee of the New York City Bar Association, speaking generally. “They may be just used to getting their way all the time.”

In recent days, Mr. Cosby, who is serving a three-to-10 year sentence for sexual assault, has decided to use three new lawyers — Brian W. Perry, Barbara A. Zemlock and Kristen L. Weisenberger — from the same Harrisburg, Pa., firm. They will pursue his appeal.

Mr. Perry, a former deputy district attorney, is chairman of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s criminal procedural rules committee. He has also been asked by Mr. Cosby’s wife, Camille, to bring what she characterizes as the ethical lapses of the trial judge, Steven T. O’Neill, to the attention of Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board, an unusual dual role.

“It’s really risky,” said Daniel M. Filler, dean of the Kline School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Even if Mr. Perry never has to argue in front of Judge O’Neill, appellate judges might frown on any judicial complaint that is not substantive, Mr. Filler said.

Mr. Perry disagreed. “Many of the issues that we intend to raise on appeal are similar to the issues and concerns that she raises,” he said.

Mr. Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, said there was no particular reason the law firms that worked in large teams for the first and second trials were not kept on.

“We just decided to go a different route,” he said. He said that the number of lawyers seemed large in part because some of the firms assigned multiple people to the case even though only the lead attorneys took active roles.

Among the lawyers who departed was Brian J. McMonagle, a respected criminal defense attorney from Philadelphia. He was at the helm when Mr. Cosby’s first trial for assaulting Andrea Constand ended with a hung jury. Mr. McMonagle, assisted by Angela C. Agrusa of Los Angeles and two of her associates, argued at trial that Mr. Cosby was a flawed man who had strayed from his marriage, but had engaged in a consensual act, not a crime.

He was replaced for the second trial by Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., of Los Angeles, who had successfully defended Michael Jackson against child molestation charges. Mr. Mesereau and the rest of the Cosby legal team largely took the same tack at the second trial. But in that proceeding the judge allowed testimony from five additional accusers who said Mr. Cosby had assaulted them. In the first, Judge O’Neill had only allowed one additional accuser to testify.

Ms. Bliss and Mr. Mesereau with Mr. Cosby, after he was found guilty in his sexual assault trial earlier this year.CreditDominick Reuter/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The second legal team was more aggressive, depicting Ms. Constand as a calculating “con artist” and the other accusers as money-driven.

But the jury found Mr. Cosby guilty. Mr. Mesereau has argued that the judge’s addition of the other women was unfair, legally in error and placed Mr. Cosby in a vulnerable position given the emotions stirred up by the Me Too movement.

“That was a sign that the judge wanted a conviction,” Mr. Mesereau said. “It was also a sign he was not going to stand up to the Me Too movement.”

Mr. Mesereau said Mr. Cosby had been “a delightful client,” and that his decision to hire new lawyers was reasonable. “Sometimes if clients don’t get the results they wanted,” he said, “they want someone to look with fresh eyes.”

As well as the 20 who have worked on the criminal case, there are several other lawyers representing Mr. Cosby in civil cases filed against him by other women.

“One downside to any change of counsel,” said Brian Jacobs, a former federal prosecutor, “is that the new lawyer needs to spend time getting up to speed on both the facts and the prior strategic decisions, and in complex cases, that can be a real challenge.”

But in Mr. Cosby’s case that often played out as a plus. After his conviction in April, Mr. Cosby’s sentencing was pushed back to September so his then-new lawyer, Joseph P. Green, would have time to research and review the evidence and prior proceedings. Mr. Cosby spent those months at home on bail.

Now that Mr. Cosby is inmate NN7687 in a maximum-security prison outside Philadelphia, the benefits of delay have gone.

Most people can’t afford to keep switching lawyers, said Michelle Madden Dempsey, a law professor at Villanova University. “Most people are usually stuck with the one they’ve got,” she said.

One of Mr. Cosby’s legal changes was completely routine. People convicted at trial will often bring in a separate appeals lawyer to draft the sort of highly specialized legal briefs that could get the verdict overturned.

But Mr. Cosby already had an appeals attorney, Peter Goldberger, a respected Pennsylvania appeals lawyer, who sat by his side during the sentencing hearing and seemed ready to represent him through the appeals process. Indeed, he filed the first motion in that regard earlier this month, along with Mr. Green.

But last week, he abruptly withdrew as well. Mr. Wyatt said Mr. Cosby wanted a single firm to handle the appeal and the complaint against Judge O’Neill.

“Great attorneys,” Mr. Wyatt said. “But we needed to consolidate.”

Mr. Goldberger declined to comment. Mr. Green said: “I was hired for a limited purpose and my work here is done.”

Prosecutors last week urged Judge O’Neill to dismiss the effort to appeal, asserting that it was without merit and that some of the issues had already been argued and rejected. “This is a timeworn case,” the Montgomery County District Attorney, Kevin R. Steele, said Friday, “and the defendant has had his many days, months and years in this court.”

For the defense lawyers involved, representing a client like Mr. Cosby can mean publicity, though it’s not all positive if you lose. And for the Pennsylvania lawyers, something can be lost by being associated with a client whose team has questioned the integrity of the district attorney and the judge.

“Lawyers have to protect their reputations,” Dean Filler of Drexel said. “They are repeat players in the justice system. They don’t want to be tainted by a radioactive client.”

Jon Hurdle contributed reporting.

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