Civil lawsuit for sexual assault of American comedian Bill Cosby
Eleven months after being released from prison when a Pennsylvania appeals court overturned his criminal conviction, Bill Cosby, 85, will again be the defendant in a sexual assault trial. This time it will be a civil case in California concerning events that took place in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles. A jury in the coastal city of Santa Monica, Calif., has been chosen and opening statements begin Wednesday in the case that is expected to last two weeks.
Here is an overview of the key elements of the case:
THE CASE AGAINST COSBY
Judy Huth, now 64, says when she was 16 in 1975, she and a friend met Cosby at a Los Angeles-area park, where he was filming the movie ‘Let’s Do It. Again” with Sidney Poitier. A few days later, according to Huth’s lawsuit, Cosby made her drink alcohol “as part of a game” and then took her to the Playboy Mansion.
There, according to the complaint, he took her to an isolated room, kissed her on the mouth, slipped his hand down her pants and used his hand to perform a sex act on her. Huth sued Cosby in 2014, seeking financial damages to be determined at trial.
Huth also filed a police report, but no criminal charges were filed. The case took eight years to go to trial due to delays in Cosby’s two criminal trials and the pandemic. The main witnesses in the trial will be Huth and his girlfriend at the time.
THE CASE FOR COSBY
Cosby’s lawyers admitted he met Huth and took her to the Playboy Mansion. An undated photo of the two there shows it well. But they categorically deny that any attack took place.
And they say Huth was actually 18 when the visit to the mansion took place, which would make any violation much less serious under California law. Cosby’s lawyers have not said what evidence they will use to show this, and stress that the onus is on the plaintiffs to prove when the visit took place.
WHY THE TRIAL IS IMPORTANT
The case took on renewed significance as one of the few remaining lawsuits against Cosby after Pennsylvania’s highest court threw out his sexual assault conviction last June and released him from jail, and after numerous other lawsuits were settled against his will by his insurer.
WILL COSBY ATTEND OR TESTIFY?
Cosby, who has attended two lengthy criminal trials, is not required to attend this one and has no plans to appear. His reps say it’s because his glaucoma left him blind. Jurors said during the selection process that they would not let Cosby’s absence affect their judgment, which the court requires. Still, attorneys in general like their clients to be present, both to put a human face on their side and to show that the client cares and takes the proceedings seriously.
He will also not appear on the witness stand. Cosby gave a video deposition in the case, but the judge ruled that he did not have to give a second, broader deposition, nor would he be required to testify in person.
The judge found that Cosby could invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination because there was a chance he could still be prosecuted in California and other jurisdictions for sexual assault.
THE COLDNESS OF THE BUSINESS
The biggest challenge, for both sides, will be presenting evidence and testimony to a jury based on events nearly 50 years ago. Many Playboy Mansion visitors and others who may have testified are dead, including Playboy Magazine founder and former mansion owner Hugh Hefner, although he gave a deposition before his death in 2017.
A lawyer for Playboy Enterprises says they cannot find logs from visitors to the mansion for the time period in question. Distant memories will need to be linked to snippets of photographs, news articles and other archives to refresh memories.
A KEY CHANGE
The age-related issues in the case were exemplified by a major change Huth made to her story just weeks before the trial, after evidence uncovered by her lawyers led them to believe she had met Cosby on set in 1975, when she was 16, not at the end. 1973 or early 1974, when she was 15 years old.
Among the things they used to reach the conclusion: a dated photo of Cosby with the beard that Huth remembers he had. Cosby’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, called the late change an “ambush” that would make it harder to present a defense, but the judge refused to dismiss the case or delay the trial. He allowed one last minute deposition from Huth.
Huth counts among his lawyers Gloria Allred, who has become nationally famous for representing women in high-profile cases such as this. But she is not expected to take an active role in the trial, handing over the presentation of evidence to two colleagues in her cabinet, Nathan Goldberg and David West.
Cosby will primarily be represented by Bonjean. The mother of four has made a national name for herself in recent years thanks to her aggressive portrayal of Cosby and R. Kelly. She has defended the two as vigorously on Twitter as she does in court, despite her account having been recently deleted.
A jury of eight women and four men was selected last week. The group is young for a jury – one member is only 19 years old. It could break either way for Cosby. While many said during questioning that they hadn’t grown up with his TV shows or his stand-up and had no particular respect for him, many of the same people said that they had also paid little attention to the criminal trial or the allegations against him. .
REACHING A VERDICT
Plaintiffs will have a lower bar to cross than Cosby’s criminal prosecutors. Jurors will have to decide whether Cosby committed the acts not beyond a reasonable doubt, but by a preponderance of the evidence. And unlike criminal cases, which require a unanimous jury, an agreement between nine out of 12 will suffice.
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