LOS ANGELES (AP) — Any case against Bill Cosby — who in recent weeks has seen a flurry of decades-old sexual assault allegations, a lawsuit and a police investigation into a molestation claim — would rely on conflicting testimony, and possibly jurors’ emotions, legal experts say.
In a civil trial, Cosby might have to face testimony from any of the more than 15 women who have accused him of various forms of sexual misconduct dating back at least 40 years, said Cynthia Bowman, a Cornell Law School professor who has specialized in how the law treats women. While any case dating back decades would hinge on memories that have faded with time, Bowman said she’s listened to some of Cosby’s accusers speak out — and they could be credible witnesses.
“A lot of these cases hinge on he-said, she-said, anyway,” Bowman said.
“It strikes me that memory for a traumatic event like this seems to be pretty stark,” Bowman said. “Most of these stories were relatively young and impressionable girls. There’s an element of shock and betrayal of trust.”
Since the allegations of sexual assault by the comedian and actor bubbled to the surface again in early November, only one woman, Judy Huth, has sued, claiming Cosby molested her 40 years ago when she was 15. Huth also gave a statement to Los Angeles police, who opened an investigation Friday. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck also said his department would investigate any allegations against Cosby, regardless of whether a prosecution would be barred by the statute of limitations.
Cosby, 77, has never been charged with a crime and settled the only other sexual assault case filed against him. In that case filed by former Temple University worker Andrea Constand in 2005, numerous women were prepared to testify against Cosby with their own stories of alleged abuse. The most recent round of accusations range from claims of being groped to being drugged and raped.
Cosby is the latest entertainment figure to contend with high-profile litigation accusing him of sexual abuse. Oscar-nominated actor John Travolta and “X-Men” franchise director Bryan Singer have been sued by men accusing them of sexual misconduct, although the cases were dismissed before ever reaching trial. The wife of “7th Heaven” actor Stephen Collins has accused him in divorce proceedings of abusing underage girls, although the actor has never been charged.
Some of the cases were dismissed after attorney Marty Singer — who also represents Cosby — demonstrated the accusers made inconsistent or inaccurate statements in their complaints. Singer has released statements on a handful of the accusations against Cosby denying the claims; in a legal filing in response to Huth’s lawsuit, he accused Huth of attempting to extort $250,000 from Cosby in return for her silence and unsuccessfully trying to sell her story about the allegations to a tabloid a decade ago.
Huth’s sexual battery lawsuit accuses Cosby of forcing her to perform a sex act on her with his hand in a bedroom of the Playboy Mansion around 1974. It remains uncertain whether her case will survive, and attorney Gloria Allred, who represents Huth, declined to answer questions about it on Friday.
Huth or any accuser whose case reached the trial stage could be seen favorably by a jury, said Jerry Reisman, a civil litigation attorney in Garden City, New York, who has handled sex abuse cases.
“A juror is going to be sympathetic to any victim here,” Reisman said.
Jurors might also take into account Cosby’s wealth and prominence, Reisman said, even if those aren’t factors they shouldn’t necessarily consider during deliberations.
Reisman said any case centering on decades-old allegations against Cosby would face hurdles, including witnesses whose memories may have faded, or witnesses who have died, and a lack of physical corroborating evidence.
“There’s no smoking gun that we know of here,” Reisman said.
Such a case could be handled fairly to both sides, provided the attorneys are careful and take their time, said Meg Garvin, executive director of the Portland-based National Crime Victim Law Institute.
Attorneys would need to carefully question witnesses and conduct a thorough investigation, she said.
“It’s actually not that different” than recently-reported sex abuse cases, which also may not have much evidence, Garvin said. “The only differential here is time.”
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