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NORRISTOWN — Bill Cosby was trying to crack a joke.
The comedian had just exited the courtroom for some fresh air Wednesday afternoon, after accuser Andrea Constand finished several hours of grueling testimony. When Cosby goes anywhere around the Montgomery County Courthouse this week, security has been tight. And not just his security. He has a handler guiding his every step, sure, but court officials follow him, too, barking orders at media over and over to not take any pictures of the comedian.
That reminder came again as Cosby strolled out of the courtroom Wednesday, with an official bellowing, “No cell phones.” It was especially loud, and Cosby sensed an opening. He turned around quickly like he was startled. He pulled up his cane in the air like it was a gun. He grunted like he was ready to fight someone and then cracked up laughing: A Cosby joke at the Cosby trial.
The security guards forced a bit of nervous laughter. That was about it. Everyone mostly just stared, bewildered at America’s disgraced dad’s attempt at a dad joke.
It was a fitting scene for the week. This is America’s biggest celebrity trial since O.J. Simpson, and the drama has extended far beyond the testimony. A reporter and a Hollywood lawyer have been thrown out of the courtroom. Judge Steven T. O’Neill has struggled to restrain the egos of lawyers on both sides. And Cosby has proven to be a sideshow at his own main event.
His sight gag on Wednesday was followed by an awkward interaction with a fan as he left the courthouse for the day. Outside the horde of photographers snapping pictures of the comedian, somebody started singing the theme song to “Fat Albert.” Cosby apparently heard it and responded with the signature catchphrase: “Hey, hey, hey.”
It’s been the job of O’Neill to keep everything orderly inside the courthouse. He’s had mixed success. On the first day, Cosby’s Philadelphia-based lawyer Brian McMonagle’s cross-examination of accuser Kelly Johnson led to at least four side conferences with the attorney. After the jury left, O’Neill kept the attorneys behind to discuss procedures and evidence and at one point McMonagle was refusing to answer O’Neill’s question.
“You’re talking to the press,” O’Neill told McMonagle. “Please talk to me.”
O’Neill tightened his grip over the case the next couple days over the lawyers (likely helped by McMonagle taking a less active role) and the media. He laid out strict rules ahead of the trial that dictated what reporters and other spectators are and aren’t allowed to do. Photos, like in any Pennsylvania courtroom, are a no-go, and O’Neill stipulated for Cosby’s trial there be no cell phones whatsoever and no broadcasting from the courtroom. That means no tweeting, emailing, Slacking, ordering messenger pigeons online, nothing.
So for the last four days, court administration officials and security guards have snuck around the courtroom, looking for a gotcha moment of people breaking the rules and vowing that anyone who did would be thrown out and face contempt of court charges. And they weren’t kidding. There haven’t been criminal charges yet (as far as we know), but at least two people have been kicked out of the courtroom.
On Tuesday, a courtroom official spotted NBC10 reporter Brian McCrone on his cell phone. She walked over to where he was sitting in one of the back rows of the courtroom, got his attention and silently pointed toward the door. McCrone was forced to leave, his credential was revoked and he’s barred from covering the rest of the trial, Philly.com reported.
Later on during Constand’s testimony a cell phone started ringing. Spectators, media and even attorneys turned around for a moment to find the guilty party. Everybody knew who it was: The phone belonged to celebrity women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred. Courtroom officials circled and kicked her out. Unlike McCrone, she was allowed to return, telling the Associated Press that she asked others outside the courtroom to help her make sure her phone was actually off.
Allred has been trying get in front of as many cameras as she can this week. But her cell phone fiasco was one of two times she got attention for other reasons. On the first day of trial, her client Kelly Johnson testified against Cosby, and McMonagle pointed out how she kept looking at Allred.
“You don’t have to look at her,” he said. “She’s in the front row.”
Through the chaos, there’s been one constant: Constand. The former Temple employee who in some ways holds Cosby’s fate in her hands testified for the better part of eight hours over two days about an encounter that happened more than 13 years ago. For the most part, she was rock solid as defense attorneys questioned the timing of the alleged assault.
They pointed out Constand originally told police the incident happened in March 2004 — she now says it was sometime in mid-January. But save for that, Constand was able to explain any inconsistency brought up by the defense over the course of a long cross-examination by Cosby defense attorney Angela Agrusa.
Constand was a calm presence in the courtroom. When she was first called to testify, she sat up straight, smiled a bit and continuously made eye contact with members of the Allegheny County jury. She was even-keeled while pushing back against Agrusa’s characterizations of her relationship with Cosby leading up to and including the night of the alleged assault. When Agrusa tried to portray her relationship with the comedian as romantic, bringing up a fire and mood lighting, she responded with a half-joke of her own.
“I don’t really remember how dim the lights were,” Constand said, “but I did have to eat my dinner, so.”
In a case like this, with celebrity distractions abounding, it’s consistency in testimony that often matters most. And if Constand was anything in a week of chaos, it was consistent.