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Montgomery County Judge Denies Defense Request To Drop Charges Against Cosby

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CBS/AP) — A judge in Montgomery County has ordered that prosecutors can move forward with the only criminal case lodged against Bill Cosby stemming from the dozens of accusations that he molested women.

Common Pleas Judge Steven T. O'Neill ruled Wednesday that sexual assault charges against the 78-year-old comedian are warranted, dismissing arguments by Cosby's lawyers that the charges should be dropped.

The comedian's lawyers were hoping to disqualify Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele because the Cosby case was an issue in last fall's hotly contested DA's race against Bruce Castor.

Steele ran ads criticizing Castor for not prosecuting Cosby when he had the chance.

The judge denied the defense request Wednesday to remove Steele.

Cosby left the court using a cane to descend an ornate marble staircase in the Montgomery County Courthouse on Wednesday night, then waved and smiled at supporters.

WATCH: Cosby Leaves Courthouse

The case now moves to a preliminary hearing, scheduled for March 8th, to determine whether there is enough evidence to try the 78-year-old Cosby on charges he drugged and violated former Temple University athletic department employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. The TV star could get up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

During the two-day hearing, lawyers for Cosby claimed that he made a deal in 2005 with then-Montgomery County prosecutor Bruce Castor that he wouldn't be prosecuted and should testify freely in accuser Andrea Constand's civil lawsuit.

READ: Email Threatens Prosecution Of Cosby 

That testimony, released only last year, prompted the Castor's successors to reopen the case and ultimately charge Cosby with felony sexual assault. Cosby has not yet entered a plea.

Cosby admitted in the deposition that he had a series of affairs with young models and actresses; had obtained quaaludes to give women before sex; and gave accuser Andrea Constand three pills before a January 2004 encounter at his home. He called it consensual but she said she was drugged and violated.

PHOTOS: Cosby Through The Years

Castor was the defense's key witness on Tuesday. He insisted that he forged an oral "non-prosecution" agreement in 2005 with Walter M. Phillips Jr., a Cosby lawyer who died last year. He said he found serious flaws in the case in 2005 and declined to bring charges. Castor told the court he steered the matter to civil court so Constand could become "a millionaire." But he also maligned her credibility throughout the day and questioned whether she and her mother set out to extort Cosby.

Judge O'Neill puzzled over Castor's testimony and peppered him with questions.

"If there was an agreement, why didn't you make that agreement in writing?" the judge asked Castor.

"It was unnecessary," he said, "because I concluded there was no way the case would get any better."

Castor said if Phillips and other defense attorneys for Cosby "wanted more than that to protect themselves, it was up to them to provide it."

He said that he made the decision not to bring charges as a representative of the state — as "the sovereign," as he put it, over and over — and that it would last in perpetuity.

Risa Ferman, now a county judge, worked on the Constand case before succeeding Castor as district attorney in 2008. She reopened the complaint last fall, asking Castor to submit any documentation of the supposed deal.

Castor pointed to a 2005 press release about his decision not to prosecute Cosby.

READ: Motion From Defense Team Asking For Montco DA's Office Be Removed From Case 

Kevin Steele, who defeated Castor in the November election to succeed Ferman, argued that Cosby needed an immunity agreement — in writing — to avoid prosecution. He said he's seen no evidence that one exists.

Judge O'Neill sided with Steele and determined that the agreement was not legally binding and that charges against Cosby should remain.

Cosby could get up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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