Bill Cosby loses sex assault lawsuit and must pay damages
SANTA MONICA, California (NYTIMES) - A jury has found that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted Judy Huth in 1975, when as a 16-year-old she accepted his invitation to join him at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
The jury's decision on Tuesday (June 21) once again tarnished the reputation of a man whose standing as one of America's most beloved entertainers dissolved as dozens of women came forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct.
As part of its decision, the jury awarded Huth US$500,000 in compensatory damages but declined to award punitive damages.
Beyond its significance to Huth, who first came forward with her accusations in 2014, the verdict offered a degree of satisfaction for many of the women who for years have accused Cosby of similar abuse. The Huth case, for them, offered a second chance at getting public vindication of their accounts after Cosby's criminal conviction in the Andrea Constand case was overturned by an appellate panel last year on due process grounds.
Many of the accusers had been barred from filing suits because they had not come forward at the time when they said Cosby had attacked them. But Huth's suit was able to move forward because the jury agreed she was a minor at the time, and California law extends the time frame in which people molested as children can file a civil claim.
After the verdict was announced, and the jury dismissed, Huth hugged her lawyers.
"I feel good. I feel vindicated." Huth said.
The verdict was a damaging setback for Cosby who, upon his release after serving nearly three years in prison, had promoted the appeals court decision as a full exoneration, an overstatement now overshadowed by a finding that reinforces an image of him as a person who wielded his celebrity to take advantage of women.
Cosby has consistently denied the accounts of all of the women, asserting that if he had sexual encounters with anyone it had always been consensual. He invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and did not attend the trial. But parts of his deposition, which was videotaped several years ago, were played for the jurors, and they heard him say he had no recollection of ever meeting Huth.
The 12-person jury was not unanimous in its findings and voted 9-3 to award Huth the compensatory damages. After the jury was dismissed, one juror, Aldo Reyna, 25, explained why he decided in her favor.
"Given the time frame, you have to go on somebody's word," he said. "Either you believe them, or you don't. I believed her on the stand."
Jennifer Bonjean, a lawyer for Cosby, claimed some victory in the fact that the jury had decided against awarding punitive damages. "We do feel some relief," she said. "Finding no punitive damages was a significant win for us."
A spokesman for Cosby, Andrew Wyatt, said the entertainer would appeal.
"Mr Cosby continues to maintain his innocence," Wyatt said in a statement, "and will vigorously fight these false accusations, so that he can get back to bringing the pursuit of happiness, joy and laughter to the world".
The jury, which began deliberating last Thursday, heard 10 days of testimony during which Huth, now 64, told of how a chance meeting with Cosby while he filmed a movie in a local park eventually led her to an isolated bedroom in the Playboy Mansion. In often emotional testimony, she described how a famous man she had once admired, whose comedy records her father collected, tried to put his hand down her pants and then forced her to perform a sex act on him.
"I had my eyes closed at that point," Huth said in court. "I was freaking out." Afterward, she said, she was "mad - I felt duped, fooled. I was let down. I was hurt."
The Playboy encounter occurred several days after Huth and a friend, Donna Samuelson, met Cosby as he filmed a scene for a movie, Let's Do It Again, in a park in San Marino, California, not far from their homes.
Huth and Samuelson testified that Cosby invited them several days later to his tennis club and then to a house where he was staying, where they played billiards, he gave them alcohol and got them to follow him in their car to the Playboy Mansion, where he told them to say they were 19 if anyone asked their age.
Cosby, 84, denied Huth's allegations, with Bonjean describing her account as "a complete and utter fabrication".
Although the jury was shown photographs of Cosby with Huth at the Playboy Mansion, taken by Samuelson, Cosby said in the deposition that he takes pictures with a lot of people, and his lawyer suggested Huth had made up the assault and coordinated with her friend to make money.
Bonjean pointed out that Huth, by her own account, had spent hours at the mansion after what Huth had described as a callous molestation, swimming in the pool and ordering cocktails. And she challenged Huth's explanation for why she had not spoken about the episode in the months and years afterward, questioning whether Huth had really repressed a terrible experience or whether she simply came forward with an accusation to join others who were providing accounts of misconduct by Cosby at that time.
Huth said she had simply buried the traumatic experience for years.
"It's like trash," she said. "You dig a hole and throw trash in it."
The jury sided with Huth. But its decision came after lengthy deliberations punctuated by multiple questions from jurors who sought guidance on how to interpret the language of questions on a verdict sheet they were given as a guide.
The process was further complicated when the jury foreperson had to be excused after the second day of deliberations. The panel, which reported it was close to a verdict last Friday, had to take on an alternate and was told to start over.