The woman who escorted Bill Cosby in and out of the Elkins Park courtroom in Pennsylvania earlier this week – the actor dressed in a black and white cardigan and moving gingerly with the help of cane – was not a friend or relative.
Rather, Monique Pressley, a Washington lawyer, has been retained by Cosby to be the public face of what may prove to be one of the biggest court battles for decades. Some have suggested that perhaps not since the 1995 trial of OJ Simpson – when the American football player was successfuly defended by Johnnie ‘if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit” Cochran – will a trial receive such frenzied publicity.
Ms Pressley was not the only attorney by Mr Cosby’s side last Wednesday. Brian McMonagle, (below left) a well-known Philadelphia criminal lawyer, will be leading the legal defence. But Ms Pressley, (right) who for some months has been serving as the 78-year-old spokeswoman, will be tasked with something almost equally important – wining the battle of public opinion.
Within hours of the man who was considered by millions of to be ‘America’s Dad’ being charged with aggravated sexual assault, Ms Pressley was on the counter offensive, issuing a statement that the charges, filed a full 12 years after the alleged offence, had come as no surprise and came in the aftermath of an election in the prosecutors’ office.
“Make no mistake,” she said. “We intend to mount a vigorous defence against this unjustified charge and we expect that Mr Cosby will be exonerated in a court of law.”
The very next morning, Ms Pressley was on the counterattack again, accepting an invitation to appear on ABC’s Good Morning America, defending her client and suggesting that the filing of charges had a political motivation.
“I expect now that all of those things will get ferreted out in a court of law and I have faith in the justice system,” she said.
From the studios of ABC, she traveled to CNN and CBS to make a similar point and to punch holes in the prosecution case - that the testimony was obtained illegally, that “50 women had not made similar accusations” to that levelled by alleged victim Andrea Constand, and that “Quaaludes”, the now banned sedative that was commonly used in the 1970s, had not been manufactured for decades.
“I don’t think anyone is saying that my client kept a stock of these Quaaludes in his medicine cabinet for two decades,” she said, with a half smile.
During every appearance, Ms Pressley has been firm but friendly. On social media, people have commented on her friendly demeanour and her claim to be trying to differentiate fact from mere accusation.
Ms Pressley, who was retained six months ago, graduated from Washington DC’s Howard University Howard University School of Law, and is originally from Galveston, Texas.
She is the mother of a daughter and son, and since 2007 she has been ordained as a Christian minister. In addition to running the The Pressley Firm from an office on Washington’s K Street – the heartland of the nation's legal and lobbying industry – in 2013 she launched the Monique Pressley Ministries, a world wide evangelical ministry.
Ms Pressley did not respond to the The Independent’s request for an interview. However, according to her firm’s website site, before establishing her own firm she worked as a lawyer in the office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, where she was responsible for defending the city and its mayor in civil litigation matters. She also worked as public defender in DC, before moving to a white collar firm in Maryland.
For five years, she was an adjunct professor at Howard University where she taught trial advocacy and coached the Moot Court Team, the site says.
In the days since Mr Cosby was charged, there has been endless speculation about what tactics his legal team will adopt. One former federal prosector, who asked not to be named, said a great deal will focus on what material is permitted as evidence and whether testimony of other women will be joined to the case.
There may also be an attempt to draw a distinction between the sexual and social mores of the 1970s with those of today, said the former prosector. Laws passed since the 1970s have tightened the definition of consent in sexual assault and rape cases.
The lawyer pointed out that 20 years in Pennsylvania where there was one notorious case when a charge of rape was thrown out because the women had said “no” but not sought to physically push the man off.
The Philadelphia Enquirer’s report of the case carried the headline: “When does the word no mean yes? In rape cases in Pennsylvania.”
“They will say that [Mr Cosby] thought they were consenting,” said the former prosecutor.
As to whether Mr Cosby’s lawyers will be able to find a jury that has not already made up their own minds about the matter, is another thing.
The former prosecutor said: “We were talking about the case and one of my colleagues said, ‘If they want to find people who haven’t heard about this case, they’re going to have to go to Kazakstan’.”
Ms Pressley's job is going to be crucial in the months ahead as the dramas play out and she is asked repeatedly about her client, including questions as to whether his use of a cane is an attempt to secure sympathy.
“I don’t really understand it. He’s a tall man of sufficient girth. He’s 78 years old, and blind, so he does use a cane so that he can know what’s coming in front of him and he does require assistance because of that,” she said.
She added: “That’s his status now, 12 years later, but he is in good spirits and he has confidence in his legal team’s ability to bring about justice for him.”
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