With hordes of media descending to cover Cosby, Norristown gets ready for its close-up

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    Bill Cosby's walk from his car to the Montgomery County Courthouse on the opening day of his sexual assault case is well document by members of local and national media. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

    Bill Cosby's walk from his car to the Montgomery County Courthouse on the opening day of his sexual assault case is well document by members of local and national media. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

    Thanks to a long statute of limitations – and some new evidence from an unsealed deposition – comedian Bill Cosby faces criminal charges in Montgomery County for an alleged assault from over ten years ago.

    Home of the county government, Norristown will play host to a three-ring circus featuring journalists, lawyers and protesters. Or, what the Associated Press has called “perhaps the biggest Hollywood celebrity trial of the mobile-news era.”

    Whether that will be a boon or a nuisance to Norristown – the long-struggling county seat of Montgomery County – is an open question.

    Police, the Montgomery County sheriff’s department, county courts administration and the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters have banded together for the first act: a hearing on a petition by Cosby’s defense to have the charges against him dropped.

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    In advance of the Tuesday morning hearing, public safety has ramped up. About fifty members of law enforcement will be on hand to maintain order, according to Lieutenant Todd Dillon.

    “He’s just another defendant that we have to prep for because he has some special interest,” said Dillon. “[It’s] just another day at the courthouse with a lot of media.”

    Make that a ton of media. Journalists have to register to attend the hearing, but how many members of the public – and protesters – will show up is anyone’s guess.

    “We have, I think, 22 production trucks coming,” said Richard Wyckoff, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters, the group wrangling the 80 plus broadcast reporters who have registered for the event. At least as many members of print media are expected.

    Their trucks will be parked along Swede Street, and traffic will be reduced to one lane.

    On a recent weekday, Lori Molyneaux is single-handedly manning the cash and taking orders at Sessano’s, an Italian deli at the corner of Swede and Airy Streets

    “From what they told us, they expect a lot of people,” she said. Police asked her to open early on the day of the case, so she’s setting up shop at six in the morning, instead of the usual eight, at least for Tuesday.

    When she was younger, Molyneaux’s family used to own a business in the same building, a restaurant aptly called The County Seat.

    “It was a lot busier years ago… in the 80s,” she said.

    Downtown Norristown has struggled to maintain businesses and restaurants, so the increase in customers may prove a boon, according to Dillon.

    “If it goes smoothly, then we look good,” he said. “Then it’s some economic development, people coming in, using our establishments.”

    There is a cost, however. Extra police presence will cost the city something, although Dillon could not say how much just yet. Cost is directly related to the duration of a trial that may or may not happen.

    Tuesday’s hearing could be the beginning of a months – or years – long court proceeding. Or, it could be a single, hectic day. Lawyers for Cosby have asked a judge to dismiss charges, on the grounds that a former District Attorney promised him immunity.

    “You know if a ruling is made in favor of Cosby,” said Dillon. “My understanding is it will be done at that point.”

    That’s unlikely, according to former prosecutor with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office Brian Kent. “Absent some sort of formal writing or immunity agreement…I have a hard time believing that the court is going to dismiss the charges.”

    Even if the case stays alive, Cosby’s lawyers have fired off a bunch of other challenges intended to keep the matter from reaching trial. The outcome of those motions could be the difference between a little attention and expense for Norristown – and a lot.

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