Privacy Law

3rd Circuit refuses to reseal damaging Cosby deposition, but questions 'public moralist' rationale

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Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby. Image from Randy Miramontez /

A federal appeals court on Monday refused to reseal documents revealing damaging admissions by Bill Cosby in a 2005 deposition.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reseal the documents because their widespread release made the appeal moot, the Hollywood Reporter reports. The records had been filed in a 2005 civil suit against Cosby by a former Temple University employee who claimed the comedian had drugged her and sexually assaulted her.

The documents revealed Cosby’s admissions that he had engaged in extramarital affairs, that he had previously acquired Quaaludes, and that he had sex with a different woman who had ingested the drug.

The appeals court said (PDF) the documents received widespread publicity after their release last year by U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno of Philadelphia, and resealing them would have no effect on their dissemination. Robreno had unsealed the documents in response to a motion filed by the Associated Press.

Though the 3rd Circuit wasn’t reviewing Robreno’s decision—he found that Cosby’s posture as a public moralist had narrowed his zone of privacy—appeals did indicate some doubts about the “novel rationale.” In a footnote, the court said the term “public moralist” is vague and undefined, and that rationale has no basis in its jurisprudence regarding modification of protective orders.

AP had downloaded the unsealed documents after Robreno’s decision, before Cosby’s counsel emailed a stay request to the court 20 minutes later. The New York Times later obtained the entire deposition, apparently because of a misunderstanding by a court reporting service.

The appeals court noted that a Google search for “Bill Cosby deposition testimony” yields 81,200 results, including full copies of the documents.

“In short,” the appeals court said, “when it comes to public awareness of the documents’ contents, the feathers of the pillow are scattered to the winds; nearly everyone in America (and many more around the world) with access to a computer either know what Cosby has admitted to doing or could find out with a few clicks, and this will remain true even if we order the documents resealed.”

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