On Monday, Bill Cosby countersued seven of more than 50 the women who have accused him of sexual assault. Their allegations, Cosby claims, are not just false but were part of a coordinated effort to derail his return to television stardom. By accusing him, publicly, of drugging and sexually assaulting them, these women have engaged in “intentional, extreme, outrageous, and morally repugnant conduct.”
The seven women in question are Tamara Green, Therese Serignese, Linda Traitz, Louisa Moritz, Barbara Bowman, Joan Tarshis and Angela Leslie. They’ve joined in a defamation suit against Cosby in federal court in Massachusetts — the suit was originally filed in 2014 by Green, Serignese, and Traitz — where Cosby resides. All of these women have come forward, publicly, to accuse Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them.
None of these women can sue Cosby for sexual assault; the statute of limitations on their cases has expired. With Cosby’s countersuit, the case is now, literally, he said, she said. By countersuing these women, Cosby may have inadvertently provided his alleged victims with a way to prove his guilt.
Cosby says these women are liars. The women say they’re telling the truth. Which means even though the case is technically about defamation — whether the women have wrecked Cosby’s reputation, or the other way around — it is, essentially, about whether or not Cosby committed these assaults.
“What it’s going to require is for the court to figure out who is telling the truth. Because one of them is clearly lying, and one is clearly telling the truth, and the one who is lying is doing the defaming,” said Leigh Goodmark, director of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law Gender Violence Clinic, by phone.
Joe Cammarata, attorney for the seven women, spoke about the case with ThinkProgress by phone. “Defamation provides an opportunity for these women to seek redress for any harm done to their good name and reputation by virtue of Mr. Cosby branding them as liars when they made public their allegations.” (ThinkProgress made multiple attempts to speak with Cosby’s lawyer, Monique Pressley. She was unavailable for comment.)
The idea to bring defamation claims against Cosby came to Cammarata before he was representing any of Cosby’s accusers, he said. “In order to prove that case, the women must establish that they were telling the truth when they accused Mr. Cosby of wrongdoing. In order to establish that they are telling the truth, there must be inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the assault: Did it happen or not? And so the defamation case, by necessity, will delve into the underlying allegations of abuse and assault by Mr. Cosby.”
Cosby has also now claimed that the women were acting as a team “to ruin him,” Cammarata said. “Some unexplained, mysterious conspiracy designed to take down one of the most powerful and beloved figures in the world — for no apparent reason, I might add — so, given that he now has said there’s this cabal, he has opened himself up to inquiry into all of the other allegations that are being made against him by all of the other women, because we need to understand whether or not these women were telling the truth or were they just members of this rogue gang out to get Mr. Cosby.”
Cammarata was not at all surprised by Cosby’s countersuit. “He wants to use his money and his power to attempt to intimidate these ladies,” said Cammarata. With his “legions of lawyers” and considerable wealth, Cosby “has a lot of pressure that he can apply to anyone that sticks their head out and calls into question his conduct.”
“This is a classic defense attorney” move, said Goodmark. She pointed out that, in October, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Mastroianni rejected Cosby’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit before it went to a jury. “So this is Cosby’s next best attempt to get them to dismiss the case voluntarily.” His attitude, she speculated, is, “’We couldn’t get the suit thrown out, we can’t make them go away, so now they have to be afraid that they’re financially liable.’ It’s a bullying tactic.”
If the other pending cases — Judy Huth and Janice Dickinson in Los Angeles County Superior Court among them — also fail to get dismissed, “he’ll probably [countersue] there, too,” Goodmark said. The countersuit “creates a real threat of financial harm to these women that they didn’t have before, and I think that’s why he did it.” It sends a message to not just these seven women, but all of Cosby’s accusers: “It’s not just that you’re publicly disclosing all this information, and you’ve brought all this attention to yourself, but if I prevail, you could find yourself destitute.”
Should these seven women succeed, what does that mean for the other 40-plus accusers out there? “I think it’s validation,” said Goodmark, even if all those individuals never see a day in court. “Once you get one court that says, ‘Using this modus operandi, this person committed these acts, and you have 43 other women saying, ‘That’s exactly what is aid happened to me,’ it validates those claims. So even for the women who have chosen to do nothing and go on with their lives, any time a victim tells her story in court and is vindicated, it’s an amazing thing for the victims.”
That said, the burden of proof in this case will not be “beyond a reasonable doubt” but the lower “preponderance of evidence” threshold: A court just has to determine that it is more likely than not that the assaults occurred. So, while you’d be able to go ahead and drop the “alleged” from “alleged rapist” when referring to Cosby and any of these seven accusers, should Cosby lose the case, “There are still people who will say ‘you didn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,’” said Goodmark, and go on believing in Cosby’s innocence. “There will always be those naysayers.”
The biggest thing working against Cosby might be Cosby’s own words from a deposition he gave in 2005 that was published by the New York Times in July. In it, Cosby was asked if he acquired Quaaludes “to use… for young women that you wanted to have sex with.” He said yes.
“The admissions about Therese Serignese go a long way in proving the case that we have here,” said Cammarata. He talked through how Serignese has described her encounter with Cosby — that he gave her Quaaludes, she became incapacitated, and he raped her — and how Cosby, in his deposition, describes the same experience: “I give her Quaaludes in Las Vegas. She meets me back. Then we have sex.”
When asked if, by admitting to giving Serignese the drugs and then having sex with her, Cosby is, by default, admitting that he raped her, because a person who has taken those drugs is incapable of consenting, Cammarata said, “You’re exactly right.” In the deposition, Cosby “is admitting that this person is incapacitated” by acknowledging the affect the drug has one someone who takes it. “And with incapacity goes inability to consent.”
“The deposition is pretty clear,” said Goodmark. “It’s pretty striking how inconsistent this is with what is already out there. [But] I’m sure his lawyers thought through that issue, and they’re going to figure out how to parse that when it comes up, which it will.”
“Regardless of what may be thrown at these seven women by Mr. Cosby, they remain resolute in their determination to have their day in court,” said Cammarata. “And they believe that ultimately, their good name and reputations will be restored.”