Bill Cosby “fears” federal prosecutors might decide to pursue a racketeering and sex trafficking case against him similar to the one that recently succeeded against R&B singer R. Kelly in New York, his criminal defense lawyer revealed in a California courtroom Friday.
Cosby’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean acknowledged the concern as she spoke by phone at a hearing on Cosby’s request to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and sidestep a second deposition in his civil court battle with accuser Judy Huth.
Bonjean claimed R. Kelly’s conviction last September and other factors including W. Kamau Bell’s new Showtime docuseries We Need to Talk About Cosby have been fueling Cosby’s worry that he’s not out of criminal jeopardy.
She said the docuseries was “whipping the pubic into a frenzy,” and with the backdrop of the ongoing #MeToo movement, Cosby’s fear of future prosecution “is not fanciful, it’s not imaginary.”
Bonjean argued that Huth, the accuser now suing Cosby with claims he sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974 when she was 15 years old and he was 37, already deposed Cosby once before and now wants to ask sweeping follow-up questions along the lines of, “Have you ever sexually assaulted anyone, anywhere, at any time in the last 84 years of your life.”
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Craig Karlan listened patiently throughout the hour-long hearing and declined to rule from the bench but said he was leaning toward allowing Cosby to plead the Fifth.
“It does appear he has a reasonable fear of prosecution, and frankly, if more information came out, that could easily cause a prosecutor to reevaluate his or her decision (in seemingly declined cases),” Karlan said. “He does have a reasonable fear that he could be incriminating himself if in fact he provides information and the statutes of limitations have not run…I don’t see it as that close a call.”
Karlan specifically referenced how Cosby was charged in 2015 for an aggravated assault on Andrea Constand even though a prior district attorney in Pennsylvania declined to prosecute the same case in 2005.
“I don’t see the assertion as frivolous here especially given what happened in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Karlan said Friday, promising to issue a written ruling soon.
Huth first sued Cosby in 2014, but her complaint was put on hold by Cosby’s two criminal trials related to Constand and the ongoing Covid pandemic. The case got back on track last year after Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Cosby’s conviction in the Constand case and he walked out of prison a free man.
In its stunning decision, the court said Cosby’s right to due process was violated because Montgomery County prosecutors had promised he would not face charges. Relying on that promise, Cosby gave damaging deposition testimony related to Constand that later was used against him.
Bonjean brought up R. Kelly’s recent conviction as she argued Friday that federal prosecutors “have been very aggressive about bringing claims against celebrities under a series of RICO violations, pleading around the statutes of limitations (and) charging people with predicate acts that date back decades.” (The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, known as RICO, is more typically used in business corruption and mob cases.)
“I also represent R. Kelly, who most certainly was prosecuted under a RICO theory in which he was a celebrity, and the theory went that there was an inner circle of people who work for celebrities and helped him get sex,” Bonjean said. “We know that federal prosecutors are creatively using federal statutes to prosecute individuals with allegations that go back a very, very long time.”
Huth’s lawyer John West argued Friday that Cosby shouldn’t get an “automatic lifetime pass” with the Fifth Amendment on the theory that prosecutors might suddenly spring criminal charges on him “despite the fact that for 16 years his name has been at the forefront of accusations of sexual misconduct by many women, and there has been exactly one prosecution.”
Either way, Judge Karlan said the Huth case is moving ahead. He set a new trial date of May 9, giving both sides an extra month to prepare. He also agreed to take up another dispute in the case later this month related to Cosby’s request for an independent medical examination of Huth. (She’s fighting the request.)
Huth claims the comedian approached her and her 16-year-old friend as they watched him working on a film set in 1974. She says Cosby gave her alcohol at a follow-up meeting a few days later, “as part of a game he proposed,” and then took her to the Playboy Mansion.
According to Huth, Cosby led her to a bedroom inside the home of magazine mogul Hugh Hefner and tried to kiss her on the mouth as he slid his hand down her pants and used her hand to perform a sex act on him. After filing her complaint for sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, Huth visited the LAPD’s special victims unit with lawyer Gloria Allred and filed a report. No criminal charges in the case were ever filed. Cosby, 84, “vehemently” denies Huth’s claims, according to his publicist Andrew Wyatt.
Huth’s suit isn’t the only civil case still pending against the disgraced former TV star. He was sued by actress and visual artist Lili Bernard in federal court in New Jersey last October. Bernard claims Cosby drugged and raped her at the Trump Taj Mahal casino resort in Atlantic City in or around August 1990 after she met him on the set of The Cosby Show, and he offered to help advance her career.
Bernard brought the lawsuit after new state legislation offered a two-year “lookback” window to bring sex assault cases regardless of when the abuse allegedly occurred.
Cosby filed a motion to dismiss Bernard’s case Friday, arguing the reform was unconstitutional because it was “retroactively depriving (him) of the defense of the statute of limitations that was in effect at the time of underlying events, a defense that ripened into a vested right.”
From Rolling Stone US