The head of the Temple University faculty union said that board of trustees chairman Patrick O'Connor's representation of comedian Bill Cosby in a sexual-assault lawsuit posed a conflict of interest and that O'Connor should "seriously consider" stepping down.
Art Hochner, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, said Monday that O'Connor should have either stepped down from the Temple board before representing Cosby in 2005, or asked Cosby to find another lawyer.
"Certainly Cosby's reputation and the stain on it spreads to Temple," Hochner said. "I think [O'Connor's representation of Cosby] shows error in judgment as a lawyer."
Temple did not respond to requests for comment on Hochner's suggestion that O'Connor resign, nor did it say whether O'Connor had recused himself from board discussions of Cosby's legal issues. O'Connor also did not respond to calls from an Inquirer reporter for comment.
Other faculty members voiced misgivings about the propriety of one board member representing another in a case that has proved deeply embarrassing to the Philadelphia university.
"The stuff that has come out [about Cosby's actions toward women] is, frankly, disgusting," said Wende Marshall, a Temple anthropology adjunct professor. "I think particularly at universities where there are all kinds of issues surrounding sexual assault, it just sends a terrible message."
Separately, ethics experts said O'Connor's representation of a fellow board member posed a potential conflict between his duty as Cosby's legal representative and his responsibilities as a Temple board member.
But Larry Fox, a lawyer at Drinker Biddle & Reath who teaches legal ethics at Yale University law school, said institutional conflicts occur frequently in the private sector, where board members of one company may be executives of another, and where the companies may have a business relationship. In such cases, the affected board members typically recuse themselves from discussions of transactions involving their companies.
Fox said O'Connor, who served on the Temple board with Cosby for more than a decade until 2014, when Cosby stepped down, could have avoided conflicts by not participating in Temple business involving his client.
Such conflicts "are almost unavoidable," Fox said. "So what you do is take that person off of the equation."
Allegation of sexual misconduct by Cosby have been circulating for more than a decade, and gained wide notice as a consequence of a lawsuit by Andrea Constand, the onetime director of operations for the Temple women's basketball program.
In the lawsuit filed in March 2005, Constand said she had developed a professional relationship with Cosby who, as a board member, offered her career advice and occasionally socialized with her. Constand alleged in her lawsuit that Cosby invited her to his house in Cheltenham in January 2004, drugged her with a drink that he described as a herbal remedy, and then sexually assaulted her as she lay immobile on a couch.
As that case was unfolding in 2005, Constand's lawyer, Dolores Troiani of Devon, asked the court to sanction both Cosby and O'Connor for engaging in disruptive and dilatory tactics during a deposition of Cosby.
That motion contained deposition excerpts in which Cosby acknowledged giving Quaaludes to a woman - he at first said women, but later in the deposition changed his testimony to say only one woman - before having sex. O'Connor repeatedly interposed himself during questioning, prompting Troiani to accuse him of being disruptive.
The case was later settled and the document remained sealed until new accusations against Cosby were made public late last year and the Associated Press asked federal district Judge Eduardo Robreno in Philadelphia to unseal the documents. Robreno granted the AP's request on July 6, saying the "stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist, and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct, is a matter as to which the AP - and by extension the public - has a significant interest."
In the deposition excerpts included in the sanctions motion, O'Connor repeatedly talks over Troiani as she questions Cosby, at one point referring to her as "young lady."
"I suspect never has so much paper and time been spent on so few answers," Bryn Mawr litigator Mark Schwartz said of the Cosby deposition transcript.
At another point in the deposition, O'Connor, frustrated when Troiani suggests Cosby is withholding information, boils over with anger.
"That is so outrageous and inappropriate," O'Connor said. "I am going to take a break. I may call the judge on this. I'm not going to put up with this crap. I am tired of you insulting this witness and his veracity."
Lawyers have a right to interject themselves in a deposition if they feel a client's rights are being breached, but interposing to the point of becoming disruptive can provoke the wrath of a judge. In this instance, the lawsuit was settled in 2006 before Robreno ruled on the sanctions motion.