The legal team for comedian Bill Cosby warned a Pennsylvania judge last month that if decade-old court documents stemming from a sexual abuse case against its embattled client were unsealed, they would "generate a firestorm of publicity." The lawyers were right.
Furious condemnations flashed across social media this week after the release of a 2005 deposition that disclosed Cosby admitted to obtaining Quaaludes with the intent of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with and to giving them to at least one woman. Cosby, once known as "America's Dad" for his landmark 1980s NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show," faces more than 45 women who are accusing him of sexual misconduct dating to the late '60s.
Beyond bad publicity, legal experts say the comedian's admission could bolster claims made by other accusers in pending civil cases and may give law enforcement more incentive to step up its scrutiny of his more recent behavior.
"I would expect law enforcement to take a serious look at Mr. Cosby," said John Manly, an attorney who has handled hundreds of civil sexual abuse cases.
Attorneys for Cosby did not respond to requests for comment but have steadfastly denied the accusations against the comedian.
The latest revelations prompted the cable network Bounce TV, one of the last outlets that continued to air reruns of the'90s show "Cosby," to drop the show from its schedule immediately. The 77-year-old comedian, who defiantly continued with his "Far From Finished" comedy tour last fall despite numerous cancellations, also appears to be on hiatus, with no public appearances listed on his website.
Attorneys representing some of the accusers seized on Cosby's admission, arguing it will strengthen their legal case.
"This confirms the allegations of numerous victims who have said that he has used drugs in order to sexually assault them," said Gloria Allred, who represents 17 of Cosby's alleged victims. "We are very gratified that it is now being made public."
Attorneys for Cosby are asking the California Supreme Court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Judy Huth, who alleges she was molested as a 15-year-old at the Playboy Mansion in 1974. Though the statute of limitations on most of the charges against Cosby has expired, a 1990 California law allows victims of sexual abuse as minors to sue for conduct in decades past.
The comedian also faces a defamation suit by Janice Dickinson for his response after she accused him of attacking her. Allred said she is "hopeful" the newly disclosed admission could bolster Huth's case and prevent efforts by Cosby's lawyers to stop the litigation.
Martin Singer, the attorney representing Cosby in the Huth case, has previously dismissed her allegations as "patently false."
But the Cosby deposition may prove most beneficial to the Dickinson defamation suit. Lisa Bloom, Dickinson's attorney and Allred's daughter, said the deposition shows Cosby admitted under oath a decade ago to the "very conduct Janice Dickinson has accused him of — sedating women to make them sexually compliant."
"Dickinson would be willing to drop the defamation suit," added Bloom, "if he acknowledges what he did to her and apologizes."
The decade-old documents were made public after a legal fight by the Associated Press and were part of a civil lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee who accused Cosby of drugging and inappropriately touching her — the first woman to do so publicly. Thirteen women claiming similar experiences were cited as Jane Doe witnesses in the case, which was settled out of court in 2006.
Though the case garnered some media attention at the time, Cosby escaped relatively unscathed. In 2009, he was honored with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and appeared to be poised for a major comeback when the charges against him were revived last year.
In August, the comedian closed a lucrative deal to produce and star in a family sitcom for NBC, but the network scrapped the project in November amid a deluge of allegations. Netflix also shelved a stand-up special called "Bill Cosby 77" that had been slated for November. By the end of 2014, TV Land had also dropped reruns of "The Cosby Show."
At the height of its popularity in the 1980s, "The Cosby Show" was the most-watched show on TV for five straight seasons and drew more than 60 million viewers. The anchor for NBC's signature Thursday night comedy block was considered groundbreaking in its crossover appeal and in its depiction of a stable, upwardly mobile black family living in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Cosby, a highly paid spokesman for Jell-O and Kodak and author of the bestselling memoir "Fatherhood," was a figure beloved by millions across racial and ethnic boundaries.
The latest revelations underscore how perception has completely changed.
"He will be a specialty act instead of a mainstream act," said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "His career would be done if someone put him in jail."
Cosby's already scant support in the Hollywood community also seemed to be eroding in light of the latest developments.
Raven Symoné, the former child star who played Olivia on "The Cosby Show," seemed to distance herself from Cosby on Tuesday on "The View," for which she has been named a co-host.
"Now there's real facts," said the actress, who added that she had been reluctant to discuss Cosby in the past because "he gave me my first job."
Another high-profile supporter, singer Jill Scott, has also turned on her former mentor.
"The sworn testimony is proof. Completely disgusted," she said Monday via Twitter.
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