Wednesday 13 December 2017

Cosby faces defamation and assault cases after mistrial

Bill Cosby listens to a speech after his mistrial. Photo: AP
Bill Cosby listens to a speech after his mistrial. Photo: AP

Brendan Pierson

Although Bill Cosby's sexual assault trial ended in a mistrial at the weekend, he still faces assault and defamation claims in civil lawsuits.

The bar for evidence in such cases is lower than in criminal trials.

In civil lawsuits in the US, plaintiffs need only show that the weight of evidence is on their side, meaning they have information to tip the scales above 50pc in their favour, as opposed to criminal cases in which prosecutors must prove claims beyond a reasonable doubt. At least 10 women have pending civil claims against Mr Cosby.

Two have brought claims against the 79-year-old entertainer for sexual assault. Others, barred from doing so because their claims were too old, have brought defamation claims against him, saying he smeared their reputations by publicly denying their accusations.

The judge in the criminal case against Mr Cosby in Pennsylvania declared a mistrial on Saturday after jurors said they were unable to reach a unanimous verdict on charges that Mr Cosby sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004.

David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who specialises in criminal justice, said the hung jury did not mean that a civil jury would clear Mr Cosby of liability.

"There may not be enough evidence for a criminal conviction, but that does not rule out a civil verdict," said Mr Harris.

Approximately 60 accusations of sexual assault have been made against Mr Cosby over a number of years, but only Ms Constand's resulted in criminal charges because the other alleged incidents were too old to prosecute. Mr Cosby has denied all of the accusations.

Ms Constand herself sued Mr Cosby in 2005 and settled for an undisclosed sum.

Women bringing civil cases would also likely find it easier to introduce testimony from other accusers to support claims that Mr Cosby engaged in a pattern of assault, said Douglas Wigdor, a plaintiffs' attorney who represents clients in sexual harassment cases.

Little testimony about other accusations was allowed in the Pennsylvania trial because of the strict standards for admitting evidence in criminal cases.

Prosecutors had sought to have 13 other accusers testify in Ms Constand's case, but the judge allowed only one, finding that more would unfairly prejudice the jury.

Even with the lower standard of evidence in civil cases, Rodney Smolla, dean of Delaware Law School, said that plaintiffs bringing defamation claims faced a significant legal challenge.

In addition to proving that Mr Cosby assaulted them, Mr Smolla said, they would have to establish that he said something about them beyond denying the allegations.

Irish Independent

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