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Cosby Held Liable (Again) for Ex-Lawyer's Press Statements

Reporters holding microphones to man in suit
By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on August 02, 2019 10:07 AM

The California Court of Appeals recently held that Bill Cosby could be liable for public comments his ex-lawyer made on his behalf. This was the second time the California Court of Appeals took up defamation issues involving Cosby and Janice Dickinson, who accused Cosby of raping her in 1982.

The opinion came out a day after Bill Cosby and Janice Dickenson settled for what Dickinson’s attorney described as an “epic amount.” 

Anti-SLAPP Motion Sought to End Defamation Suit

The case didn’t just settle for an epic amount, it also involved an epic amount of legal jostling.

Janice Dickinson filed a defamation lawsuit against Bill Cosby in 2015 for comments his attorney, Martin Singer, made shortly after an interview she gave to Entertainment Tonight where she alleged Cosby raped her.

Singer released statements on November 18, 19, 20 and 21 that stated both explicitly and implied in various terms that Dickinson was lying and making opportunistic claims.

That February, Dickinson’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, sent a letter requesting retraction of the comments made on November 18 and 19. Neither Singer nor Cosby retracted the statements. The original complaint alleged that since Cosby failed to retract his attorney’s statements, Cosby endorsed and ratified those statements.

Cosby then filed an anti-SLAPP motion, alleging that Dickinson could not win because her claims could not be discoverable under attorney-client privilege. Ultimately, the issue went to the California Court of Appeals, who held that her claims were not barred. The court remanded, and further legal action ensued, with Dickinson filing an amended complaint and Cosby again filing an anti-SLAPP motion. The California court of Appeals again weighed in, this time on the comments made on November 20 and 21. The issue was not just whether Cosby was vicariously liable, but also directly liable, for the comments his attorney made.

Attorney-Client Privilege Not Applicable – But Only for Cosby

The court determined that there was enough evidence to support Dickinson’s claim that Cosby is directly liable for his attorney’s claims. While Cosby argued that any relevant discovery would be protected under attorney-client privilege, the California Court of Appeals noted that Dickinson could potentially prove her case by showing that Singer routinely sought approval prior to sending out letters to the press on behalf of clients in his 40-year career.

Further, the court held that there was enough evidence that Cosby ratified the statements that he could be held vicariously liable for the statements. It was enough for the court to deny Cosby’s anti-SLAPP motion in its entirety.

Interestingly, Singer was also named as a defendant in the amended complaint. However, the trial court granted his anti-SLAPP motion, writing that the only way Singer could have known his statements were false were through conversations with Cosby; conversations that are protected under attorney-client privilege and not discoverable. Counsel for defendants can rest a bit easier.

Cosby is currently appealing his criminal conviction for a separate instance involving sexual assault.

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