The judge in the Bill Cosby criminal case ruled today that jurors can hear about the settlement the comedian paid the woman who told police that he drugged and assaulted her. Judge Steven O’Neill also ruled that jurors can hear testimony from a woman, Marguerite “Margo” Jackson; she is expected to say that Andrea Constand once told her while they both worked at Temple that she could make a false rape claim against someone to get money. And jurors won’t hear from prosecutors about the negotiations that went into the settlement—prosecutors had wanted to bring up that Cosby, they said, wanted assurances that a criminal case couldn’t be brought and evidence would be destroyed.
The Cosby defense team never hid its strategy. Last month, defense lawyer Kathleen Bliss said that Constand “had a motive, and that was to get money by accusing someone falsely.” Defense lawyer Tom Mesereau called her “greedy.” Even Jackson’s assertions are old—the defense tried and failed to get her included in the first trial, and it is possible that O’Neill can change his mind and exclude her again. In the first trial, Constand said she didn’t recall Jackson. Since then, defense lawyers have found several people from Temple to say Constand and Jackson knew each other when Constand worked for the university’s women’s basketball team. In the failed motion to keep Jackson out, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele called Jackson’s statement “absurd” and wrote that her emergence after more than a decade “should call into question the motives, intentions, and veracity behind Ms. Jackson’s proffered testimony.”
It is somewhat of a change from the first trial, when defense lawyers used that other trope about women—that Constand was a scorned lover (and liar) and whatever happened with Cosby was consensual. But today’s rulings matter because they indicate these arguments won’t just be the same old stuff Cosby’s PR team will, once again, feed to reporters: The “she wants money” narrative will be presented before jurors as a possible motive and evidence.
The headlines from reporters in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where the trial is being held, are touting this as a big win for Cosby’s legal team, a glum reminder of what courtrooms are—they are, no matter what Law & Order has told you, public theaters where the best story wins. Sometimes jurors get it right; sometimes they don’t.
Starting Monday, team Cosby will present its story—the same story told about so many women throughout time—that Constand is just another liar and gold digger. Whether or not jurors believe that, believe Jackson, and think a financial settlement between a man accused of sexual assault and a woman is proof of his innocence will say a lot about what has and has not changed in our post-Weinstein world.