Prosecutors accused Bill Cosby's attorneys on Tuesday of attempting to intimidate more than a dozen accusers the government hopes to call as witnesses in his sexual assault trial next year, setting off a shouting match and hours of bitter exchanges in a pivotal pretrial hearing.
The session was so tense that at one point, Montgomery County Court Judge Steven T. O'Neill threatened to call in sheriff's deputies.
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele bristled at defense attempts to introduce into evidence two thick binders of background on the 13 women, objecting to the use of their names and attempts to use news articles to discredit them.
"Here is another simple attempt to intimidate the witnesses," he said. "I'm not going to be a party to it."
Cosby attorney Brian J. McMonagle shot back, insisting that Steele's effort to protect those accusers was excessive and unprecedented in the highly publicized sexual assault trial.
"These are witnesses in a trial. They're not children," he said. "They've given press conferences. Some of them have been interviewed for books. Some of them are on tour."
The dispute began a scheduled two days of hearings in Norristown on the central legal battle in the case.
Testimony from additional accusers, if permitted, could transform Cosby's trial from a more traditional he-said-she-said sexual-assault case to one that could recast a celebrity once known as "America's Dad" as a serial sex predator.
Prosecutors said they investigated allegations from 49 women, whose claims stretched from the mid-1960s to 2008.
Steele said he chose the 13 women because their accusations align closely with those of Andrea Constand, the central accuser in the criminal case. The women are younger than Cosby, Steele said, and many met him through work, saw him as a mentor, and went somewhere private with him because he invited them.
"The victims in each of these cases ... could not consent based upon their intoxicated state that the defendant has put them in," Steele said.
Cosby's attorneys will make their own arguments Wednesday and attempt to undermine the women's credibility.
One woman, they said, has given 27 media interviews. Others, they said, have written Facebook posts in an online group called "We Support the Survivors of Bill Cosby."
Ten of the 13, they said, are represented by lawyer Gloria Allred.
"This is a unique situation . . . whereby a civil litigator is bringing a bunch of bandwagon claims together and dropping them off at the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office," McMonagle said.
But the legal arguments were largely overshadowed by the outbursts.
The attorneys' spat Tuesday morning left O'Neill in the position of reprimanding both sides and playing referee for most of the day.
At one point, Steele, red-faced, appealed to the judge to admonish the defense over the positioning of a projection screen, saying it had purposefully been tilted toward the courtroom gallery to expose to reporters the names of potential witnesses - many of whom have already come forward publicly.
Throughout, Cosby, 79, sat quietly, gripping his cane, leaning back in a chair. He appeared more animated and engaged than he had at earlier hearings.
He spoke up unsolicited at two points, once when the judge asked for his birth date, and again while lawyers sorted out the location of an assault alleged to have happened at the Drake Hotel in New York City.
"No," Cosby said, "the Drake is in Chicago."
On his way into the courthouse Tuesday, he quipped to a security guard: "Don't Tase me, bro'."