There is little question that Bill Cosby’s revered reputation is in tatters. But will he ever be called to account for conduct that has led to multiple lawsuits and accusations of sexual misconduct from more than 40 women?
The one assault allegation against Cosby to progress through the legal system — a 2005 civil suit brought by a Temple University employee named Andrea Constand — was settled without any admission by Cosby. But Constand’s complaint set in motion events that could raise new legal troubles for Cosby and that have the potential to be powerful pieces of evidence against him in potential civil or criminal cases, plaintiffs attorneys and others say. The most problematic are Cosby’s own account contained in court records and his deposition in the Constand case.
The records, which have been unsealed or disclosed in the past two weeks, contain Cosby’s admission that he gave drugs to women he sought to have sex with, including Constand and some of the long line of women who have accused him of drugging and assaulting women since the late 1960s (Cosby has denied any criminal intent).
“On the plaintiff’s side, you can’t ask for much better” than Cosby’s testimony, said Tom Lininger, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law. “That kind of stuff is very powerful with a jury.”
Lininger, who stressed that he was speaking generally and not specifically about Cosby, said prosecutors could use such admissions to establish a pattern of behavior or modus operandi. “As a former prosecutor, I would definitely value a defendant’s admission of past misconduct of such magnitude,” he said.
Cosby has always denied (and continues to do so) that his behavior was improper. The high bars to prosecution have been the lack of physical evidence and the expiration of the statute of limitations; some of the allegations date to the late 1960s, making the collection of evidence almost impossible.
Cosby, however, may still face criminal charges. The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating a sexual-battery complaint filed by Chloe Goins,a model who says Cosby spiked her drink during a party at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles in 2008 and then removed her clothes and masturbated in her presence after she passed out, according to Goins’s attorney, Spencer Kuvin.
The statute of limitations on the allegation won’t run out until next April, Kuvin said. He said the LAPD has questioned Goins twice since she came forward in December. If officials decline to pursue a criminal case, he said, he is prepared to file a civil suit on Goins’s behalf.
The LAPD has confirmed an ongoing investigation of Cosby’s behavior but has not identified the alleged victim. Gloria Allred, an attorney who represents 17 Cosby accusers, said one of her clients, Judy Huth, also has spoken to detectives.
Martin Singer, Cosby’s attorney, did not respond to multiple calls and e-mails seeking comment. Cosby’s representatives have declined to comment for weeks, suggesting that the comedian has abandoned his previous aggressive efforts to combat the mushrooming allegations in the court of public opinion.
Cosby is facing an array of civil lawsuits from some of his accusers. Given the limitations on sexual misconduct claims, the women have instead alleged that Cosby, through his attorneys, defamed them by calling them liars.
Those statements, combined with Cosby’s deposition, appear “to destroy the soapbox upon which he stood as the public moralist,” said Joseph Cammarata, a Washington attorney who represents three Cosby accusers in a defamation action. “It appears that his private conduct was far different than what he prescribed for appropriate moral conduct.”
The deposition illustrates “how deceptive, manipulative and disgusting” Cosby was, said Allred. She singles out Cosby’s testimony regarding another of her clients, Beth Ferrier, in which Cosby asked about Ferrier’s father, who died of cancer. Cosby admitted in his 2005 deposition that he inquired about Ferrier’s father not to comfort her but because he wanted to ingratiate himself with her in a ploy for sex.
“He lied to Beth, to many other women, and to his own wife,” Allred said. “It is no wonder that he fought to keep this deposition, which reveals his revolting predatory conduct, hidden from public view. But the truth is out now, and it will never be hidden again.”
Lisa Bloom, an attorney representing another Cosby accuser, the model and former reality TV star Janice Dickinson, called his deposition “a gold mine” for Dickinson’s case, another defamation action. Bloom, who is Allred’s daughter, filed the suit in May after Cosby’s attorneys called Dickinson a liar after she said last year that Cosby drugged and raped her in 1982.
“Now we know something we didn’t know at the time [Dickinson’s] case was filed, namely, that in 2006, he admitted under oath to huge portions” of the type of behavior Dickinson had alleged, Bloom said. Under California law, a plaintiff can bring in other incidents of sexual assault to prove an incident of sexual assault, she said, adding, “There is a strikingly similar practice and pattern” to Cosby’s admitted behavior of using powerful sedatives in his interactions with women.
But Kuvin, the attorney for Goins, questioned whether Cosby could be held legally culpable for statements made by his attorneys. “There are immunity issues,” he said. “Anyone suing him for defamation will have a very hard time in court” applying the claim to his attorneys. “What I say in behalf of my client does not transfer to my client.”
Many of the legal issues surrounding Cosby transcend his fame and celebrity and speak to a larger set of issues, said Gina M. Smith, a former Philadelphia prosecutor who is now in private practice specializing in sexual misconduct issues.
Noting the reluctance of many of Cosby’s accusers to come forward for years, she said: “The question we should be asking is, what have we learned from this as a society? How do we support those who report sexual assault? How do we make it more palatable for victims to be heard, rather than blamed? And how do we fairly and impartially investigate cases involving those in a position of power and celebrity? This is the very conversation we need to be having at this time.”
Karen Heller contributed to this report.