Attorneys for Bill Cosby filed a motion Thursday in a defamation lawsuit brought by reality television personality and former model Janice Dickinson, arguing that the embattled comedian’s public statements in his defense against rape accusations are not defamatory.
Cosby attorney Angela C. Argusa filed an opening appellate brief, asking the California Court of Appeals to consider whether a person or his lawyer should be allowed to proclaim innocence publicly when facing serious allegations of misconduct in the international press.
“[Dickinson’s] outrageous public persona could not have suffered from being called a liar,” Argusa said in court filings.
In November 2014, as Cosby faced an onslaught of decades-old accusations of sexual assault, Dickinson went on national television and claimed for the first time that in 1982 she was assaulted by the legend.
Cosby’s team pointed out that in Dickinson’s own 2002 autobiography and in an interview with the New York Observer, she described that alleged encounter very differently.
Dickinson said Cosby invited her to sleep with him after the two had dinner at a Lake Tahoe hotel, and when she refused, he turned cold and slammed a door in her face, Cosby’s lawyers argued.
It was only after other women came forward against Cosby in 2014 that Dickinson changed her story in a series of public appearances, claiming she was “raped,” his lawyers said.
A lawyer representing the “I Spy” star at the time called out Dickinson for “her self-serving” change of story.
She then sued Cosby for defamation, a claim initially thrown out by the Los Angeles Superior Court but ultimately allowed to proceed.
Cosby said the court erred and should have dismissed the entire case.
In Thursday’s filing, his lawyers cited a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which just a few weeks ago struck down a similar defamation claim brought against Cosby by former actress Renita Hill.
“First, when someone says that an accusation is a lie and then gives the reasons for that opinion, that is not defamation. That is exactly what Mr. Cosby’s prior lawyer did,” the star’s attorneys argued in the brief. “Second, the law permits people to speak out to defend themselves against accusations without risk of being sued for defamation. Courts recognize that it is common sense that a person be able to profess his innocence.
“Third, because Ms. Dickinson has cultivated an outrageous public persona, with documented admissions that she has lied in the past, she will have a very tough time showing that her reputation was harmed when his lawyer questioned the truth of her new accusations,” Cosby’s lawyers said.
The brief emphasizes that “because the failure to vehemently deny accusations may later be construed, interpreted as, or deemed an admission of those allegations,” the statement “is purely opinionated speech articulated by Mr. Cosby’s attorney, intended to convey the message that Mr. Cosby denies the allegations made against him.”
“Such a public denial of an equally public allegation is protected speech” under the First Amendment,” the attorney argued.
Attempts to reach Dickinson’s team for comment were unsuccessful.