Bill Cosby has been on the defensive in the past few months over allegations by many women who accuse the comedian of drugging and sexually assaulting them. On Friday, Cosby’s lawyers told a Massachusetts judge to dismiss a defamation claim made by three women on the basis that if he branded them liars in statements to the press, he was within his rights to make “privileged utterances of self-defense.”
The lawsuit was originally filed by Tamara Green, who claims to have been a victim of Cosby’s in the 1970s and had her reputation tarnished when Cosby’s publicist told Newsweek that Green was “discredited” and Cosby’s lawyer told The Washington Post that “the incident she describes did not happen.”
After Green submitted her suit, she was joined in the action by two other women, Therese Serignese and Linda Traitz, who also come forward with tales of being victimized twice — once by sexual assault, again by libel.
According to Cosby’s memorandum in support to dismiss the lawsuit, these claims have no place in court. After denying the allegation of sexual misconduct by the three women — and boldfacing the denial — Cosby’s lawyers write the lawsuit is a “misuse of the law of defamation to attempt an end run around the relevant statutes of limitations for the alleged assaults.”
The brief then goes on to spell out why many others — probably even aggressive attorneys like Gloria Allred — have concluded that defamation isn’t the sword by which to punish Cosby for what rape accusers are saying he did.
“The law does not require that one stand idly by while he is publicly attacked,” states the memorandum. “Instead, the law entitles an individual who is accused of serious wrongdoing to rebut the allegations without facing defamation claims. Statements made in self-defense are privileged, and cannot form the basis of a defamation action. Any other rule would discourage full and open public discourse and would present those who are attacked with a Hobson’s Choice: either remain silent and allow accusations to stand unanswered, or publicly deny them and invite the expense, burdens and vexations of a defamation suit.”
It’s then added that the result would be “inequitable,” which may sound like inflammatory rhetoric when measured against the serious nature of rape, but what Cosby’s lawyers contextualize as the purpose of having statute of limitations when “evidence and witnesses have disappeared and memory has faded.”
Besides raising a defense that statements made are privileged, the memorandum addresses other reasons why the lawsuit arguably fails: The women weren’t directly called “liars,” some of the statements in question are said to not be “of and concerning” them, and there was supposed “substantial truth” to statements made about Traitz, with nods to her criminal rap sheet. Plus more as seen in the full document below.
The plaintiffs will have opportunity soon to rebut the motion with arguments why their claims are supported by fact and law.
Cosby is being represented by Robert LoBue at Patterson Belknap as well as Francis Dibble and Jeffrey Poindexter at Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas.
This article was first published by The Hollywood Reporter