Bill Cosby's lawyers asked a judge Monday to summon as many as 2,000 people from Allegheny County to participate in jury selection for the entertainer's sex assault trial.
Citing the high-profile nature of the case, Cosby's lawyers laid out a proposed weeks-long process for jury selection, beginning with mailing questionnaires to thousands of potential jurors in an effort to narrow the pool before they report to court.
"The extraordinarily widespread media attention that this matter and other accusations against Mr. Cosby has received makes it a greater challenge to identify and select impartial prospective jurors," lawyers Brian McMonagle and Angela Agrusa wrote.
Cosby, 79, is scheduled to go on trial in Montgomery County in June on a charge of aggravated indecent assault. Prosecutors say he drugged and molested Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his Cheltenham home in 2004. The state Supreme Court ruled last week that his jury will come from Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh and several surrounding municipalities.
A spokeswoman said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele had no comment on Monday's filing.
Typically in criminal cases, a court summons jurors to appear in person to answer questions. But Cosby's lawyers wrote that written questionnaires before in-court appearances have been used for other trials with high-profile defendants, including Barry Bonds, Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, and Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
That procedure would quicken the selection process once potential jurors report to court, Cosby's lawyers said. They proposed mailing the questionnaires the first week in May, allowing each side to review them and submit a list of jurors to eliminate before in-person questioning begins in groups of 100 on June 5 in Pittsburgh.
Judges rarely grant such questionnaire requests, said Dennis McAndrews, a former prosecutor whose high-profile cases included John E. du Pont's murder trial.
"It’s generally viewed by judges in Pennsylvania as unnecessary, and also opening up the potential for extraordinary investigation of jurors beyond what is typically conducted prior to trial," McAndrews said.
Sample questions they would like to ask include whether jurors have heard about the case; what they know about it; their personal opinion of Cosby; and whether they or a friend or family member have been sexual-assault victims.
Other recent high-profile cases in Pennsylvania have not included the use of questionnaires, and started with jury pools of far less than 2,000. Former state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's jury was selected in one day from a group of 100 prospective jurors. Lawyers began with a pool of 104 jurors this month to choose a jury for the trial of accused state trooper shooter Eric Frein, for which jury selection is still going on. Hundreds of Centre County jurors were summoned for former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's trial, for which a jury was chosen in two days.
McAndrews said he had never heard of surveying 2,000 potential jurors for a trial.
"In Pennsylvania, I've always seen numbers far lower than that as being adequate to obtain an impartial jury," he said.
Judge Steven T. O'Neill has set June 5 as the date for the start of the trial, but has indicated that he might schedule jury selection to begin earlier. It was not clear Monday when or how he would rule on the latest requests.