Appeals court allows defamation suit for comments by Cosby lawyer day after 'epic' settlement
Bill Cosby. Image from Shutterstock.com.
A California appeals court has ruled against actor Bill Cosby’s bid to toss a defamation lawsuit by former model Janice Dickinson. The ruling comes just one day after Dickinson’s lawyer announced that the case had settled for “an epic amount.”
California’s Second District Court of Appeal ruled Friday in the suit against Cosby based on statements made by his former lawyer, Martin Singer, report Law360 and the Recorder. Singer had said Dickinson lied about being raped by Cosby, and statements by people “coming out of the woodwork” were fabricated or unsubstantiated.
Dickinson’s lawyer, Lisa Bloom, announced Thursday that Cosby’s insurer had settled the case. USA Today had coverage. A Cosby spokesperson criticized the settlement for “robbing Mr. Cosby of the opportunity to clear his name in a court of law,” Deadline reported.
Cosby made two arguments, which were both rejected by the appeals court.
One of Cosby’s unsuccessful arguments was that he was not directly or vicariously liable for Singer’s statements. The second was that the statements at issue were nonactionable opinions and did not refer, directly or indirectly, to Dickinson.
Cosby had tried to get Dickinson’s defamation suit dismissed based on California’s anti-SLAPP law, which is intended to discourage lawsuits against people for speaking out on matters of public concern. The appeals court previously had allowed suit over Singer’s statements that Dickinson’s rape story “is a lie” and a “fabricated lie.”
Among the statements by Singer at issue in the new appeal:
• “The new, never-before-heard claims from women who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40 or even 50 years ago have escalated far past the point of absurdity.”
• Another accuser “is the latest example of people coming out of the woodwork with fabricated or unsubstantiated stories about my client.”
The appeals court said the statements could be understood to refer to recent Cosby accusers, including Dickinson. The court also said a reasonable listener could understand both statements as assertions of fact.
Singer had testified that it is his general practice to ensure that the client approves press statements and correspondence in advance, but attorney-client privilege prevented him from discussing his conversations with Cosby. A trial judge had dismissed Dickinson’s claim against Singer because Dickinson could not prove that he acted with malice.
The appeals court noted Singer’s testimony. The court also said Cosby had not retracted or clarified Singer’s statements after they were made.
Cosby was convicted last year for sexually assaulting a Temple University employee. Dickinson had testified that she was raped by Cosby in 1982 as part of a prosecution effort to show prior bad acts by the comedian.
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