Court puts Cosby case on hold

Actor Bill Cosby arrives for the second day of hearings at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown on Feb. 3, 2016.

A Pennsylvania appellate court on Tuesday temporarily halted criminal proceedings against Bill Cosby, including a key hearing scheduled for next week, saying it wanted to first decide if it would hear his arguments to dismiss the charges.

The one-paragraph Superior Court order stayed all hearings. The court also directed lawyers to submit briefs by April 11 over whether the panel should grant the 78-year-old entertainer a rare appeal before a trial.

For Cosby, the order represented a victory, if only a minor or fleeting one. He had been scheduled to appear Tuesday in Norristown for a preliminary hearing, where prosecutors planned to introduce evidence and ask a judge to let the aggravated indecent assault case proceed to trial.

Montgomery County Court Judge Steven O'Neill last month rejected arguments from Cosby's lawyers that the case should be dropped because a former district attorney promised the entertainer would never be prosecuted for an alleged 2004 assault against Andrea Constand.

The defense claims it should be allowed to challenge that ruling now - instead of after a trial - because a win could lead to the collapse of the case against him.

Superior Court did not indicate if it planned to hear or rule on the appeal arguments, saying only that it was appropriate to consider the request. It also was unclear how long the stay might delay criminal proceedings.

Cosby's lawyers declined to comment. Prosecutors, who have called the entertainer's claims baseless and an attempt to stall the case, did not return calls Tuesday.

Typically, appeals occur only after a criminal case has been heard by a jury or judge. But in certain circumstances - such as a ruling that could drastically change the outcome of the case - defendants can ask a higher court for early review.

In court filings, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele had argued that Cosby has no right at this stage of the case to appeal O'Neill's ruling last month.

Cosby is accused of drugging and molesting Constand, a former Temple University women's basketball manager, at his Cheltenham mansion. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of aggravated indecent assault.

Though Cosby faces civil litigation in at least three different states from dozens of other women, the Montgomery County case is the only one to have led to criminal charges.

lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116 @Lmccrystal