Bill Cosby’s Legal Woes Now Shift to Civil Court

With Bill Cosby in prison, much of the legal battle surrounding him will shift to civil court, where he has been sued by 10 women who say he sexually assaulted them, and where his fortune, not his freedom, will be at stake.

The civil suits have largely been on hold while the criminal trial played out. Mr. Cosby filed his first appeal on Friday, but lawyers for the plaintiffs say they intend to push forward with their lawsuits aggressively now that Mr. Cosby has been convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand.

Ms. Constand is the only woman whose account led to criminal charges, in part because many of the women who have accused Mr. Cosby of assaulting them did not go public until after the statute of limitations for that offense had expired. But many of them were not barred from filing civil suits, four of which remain active in courtrooms around the country.

Lisa Bloom, who represents Janice Dickinson, the former model who has sued Mr. Cosby, said her lawsuit was motivated by accountability and justice, not money.

“Janice and I have both said on the record if he would admit what he did to her and apologize, we would drop the case,” Ms. Bloom said.

In Ms. Dickinson’s and a second case involving seven other women, the plaintiffs have accused Mr. Cosby of defaming them, asserting that his team labeled them liars when they came forward with their accounts. In two other cases, the women have accused Mr. Cosby of sexual assault.

All the cases were filed before Mr. Cosby was criminally charged, and were at the time, the women say, the only way they felt they could get a hearing on their accounts. Now they hope to introduce Mr. Cosby’s conviction as important new evidence in their suits.

“He’s a registered sex offender now and that all helps us a great deal in our case,” said Ms. Bloom, whose client, Ms. Dickinson, says Mr. Cosby raped her in a Lake Tahoe hotel room in 1982.

Gloria Allred represents Judy Huth in her civil lawsuit against Mr. Cosby.CreditRyan Collerd for The New York Times

David Aronoff, a lawyer with Fox Rothschild LLP, who is not involved in the Cosby case, said evidence of prior bad acts is often viewed as inadmissible. “But there are several major exceptions to this rule,” he explained, “that open the door to evidence of Cosby’s criminal conviction in the civil cases against him.”

These exceptions, he said, include cases in which the prior bad acts rise to the level of habit or custom.

Mr. Cosby has denied the women’s accusations, described any sexual relationships as consensual and is appealing his criminal conviction. His lawyers may seek to continue to postpone proceedings in the civil cases while the appeal unfolds and would likely cite his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to block being further deposed in those cases.

“We believe these cases have absolutely no merit,” said Alan Greenberg, the lead defense attorney in Mr. Cosby’s civil cases. “We will continue to vigorously defend Mr. Cosby.”

For years, Mr. Cosby, 81, was an earnings machine with income from comedy albums, commercial appearances for Jell-O and other brands, as well as books and films and the salary and royalties from televisions shows like “The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984 to 1992. But those income streams have dwindled in recent years, experts say, in part because residuals from Mr. Cosby’s shows have dried up after they were largely pulled from the air in response to the scandal.

What’s left of his fortune is unclear. He and his wife, Camille, either together or separately, continue to hold ownership stakes in properties in California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York with assessed values at nearly $72 million, though several of them carry significant mortgages. The real estate portfolio used to be larger, but in September 2015, as the accusations against Mr. Cosby began to build, a real estate company that lists Mrs. Cosby as a principal sold three properties in Santa Monica, Calif., for $22.4 million.

Mr. Cosby’s legal bills clearly have been mounting for several years, though so far those for the civil defamation cases have been paid by his home insurance company, American International Group.

A.I.G. has twice tried to limit its exposure, arguing in court that it is not compelled to cover claims stemming from sexual misconduct. But judges in Massachusetts and California have sided with Mr. Cosby. In Massachusetts, the federal judge, Mark G. Mastroianni, ruled that the case there was at its heart a defamation case, which was covered by the policy. A.I.G. declined to comment.

Joseph Cammarata represents seven women who say Mr. Cosby defamed them.CreditScott Eisen/Getty Images

The legal bills for the criminal case, which included two trials over a period of three years, multiple sets of lawyers and now an appeal, are another story, as are the bills for the civil sexual-assault cases. Mr. Cosby is footing those himself and some signs of possible financial stress are showing. Last month, a Philadelphia law firm, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, which represented Mr. Cosby in the criminal case, sued him, saying he owes them more than $280,000. Andrew Wyatt, a spokesman for Mr. Cosby declined to comment on this suit.

Mr. Cosby’s appeal filed on Friday challenges his conviction and his prison sentence of three to 10 years.

His lawyers argued that Judge Steven T. O’Neill erred during sentencing by taking into account the testimony of five other women who said they were attacked by Mr. Cosby years ago; that Judge O’Neill should have acknowledged that Mr. Cosby, who is legally blind, has a “near zero” risk of reoffending; that the trial evidence had not proved precisely when the encounter with Ms. Constand took place, and if it occurred within the 12-year statute of limitations; and that a taped phone conversation between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand’s mother, Gianna Constand, was “not authentic” even though it was used by prosecutors at the trial.

Prosecutors have not yet responded in court, but in the past they have contested the claims made in the appeal.

One of the five women who testified against Mr. Cosby, Ms. Dickinson, sued him for defamation in 2015, after Martin Singer, Mr. Cosby’s lawyer at the time, described her account as “a lie.”

She was in the Pennsylvania courtroom last month when Judge O’Neill announced the sentence. She said she reacted instinctively, recalling the times she thought Mr. Cosby had laughed inappropriately during the proceedings.

“I let out an explosive emotional laugh,” she told Variety in a statement. “While other victims wept, I laughed and said, Who’s laughing now?”

Mr. Cosby’s team requested that the United States Supreme Court review Ms. Dickinson’s case in an attempt to get the suit dismissed. But last week, the court declined to do so.


An image of Mr. Cosby taken by law enforcement officials.CreditReuters

Ms. Dickinson’s case very much resembles a second case being pursued in federal court in Massachusetts by seven women represented by Joseph Cammarata. The women say they too were called liars after accusing Mr. Cosby of sexual assault. Like Ms. Dickinson, the women — Tamara Green, Therese Serignese, Linda Traitz, Louisa Moritz, Barbara Bowman, Joan Tarshis and Angela Leslie — assert that Mr. Cosby defamed them in the process of responding to their accusations of sexual misconduct.

Mr. Cosby’s lawyers have fought the defamation cases by arguing that his representatives were only speaking in his defense and that they were not stating facts, but offering opinions, which are protected speech under the Constitution.

The two other lawsuits against Mr. Cosby were filed by women who say Mr. Cosby sexually assaulted them.

Judy Huth, who says Mr. Cosby forced her to perform a sex act on him in 1974 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, when she was 15, is suing in California.

Her lawyer, Gloria Allred, deposed Mr. Cosby in 2015 as part of the proceedings and is waiting to take a second deposition from him, though Mr. Cosby is likely to assert his Fifth Amendment rights until his appeal is settled.

The Playboy Mansion also figures in the fourth lawsuit Mr. Cosby is facing from Chloe Goins, who says that he drugged and sexually assaulted her at a party there in 2008. The Los Angeles authorities investigated her complaint, although decided against bringing charges in 2016. Ms. Goins’s lawyer, Spencer Kuvin, said that the civil case will proceed and that he is seeking to depose Mr. Cosby.

On the day of Mr. Cosby’s sentencing last month in Norristown, Pa., Mr. Cammarata, Ms. Allred and several of the women who are suing joined other female accusers at a news conference at Savior Hall, an event space a few blocks away from the Montgomery County Courthouse.

“You stole my trust, you stole my body, and my belief that good things happen,” said Ms. Serignese, one of seven women who are suing Mr. Cosby for defamation in Massachusetts. “You, Mr. Cosby, made me a victim — your victim.”

The next lawyers’ meeting in that case is later this month.


Written by How Africa

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