LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bill Cosby has the right to remain silent — and that may be his best strategy.
With police urging any possible sex abuse victims to come forward, two lawsuits pending and more than 15 women making accusations stretching back years, Cosby has little to gain by speaking publicly, legal experts say.
While his reputation takes a hit, the comedian could potentially ride out the storm as lawyers knock down old claims in court. But if he says something disparaging about an accuser, as one woman has alleged, he could face a new wave of legal trouble.
“Staying mostly silently may be the best tactic for him given the dangers of saying something that might be libelous,” said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles.
Cosby has been under siege amid allegations that he drugged women and sexually assaulted them, dating back to the 1970s. He has never been criminally charged in connection with the accusations, and his lawyer has denied many of them. Cosby settled a lawsuit in 2005 with a Pennsylvania woman who said he drugged and fondled her.
As the scandal smears the comic legend’s onetime image as America’s loveable TV dad, his mastery of the pregnant pause for laughs is now being played as a defense.
Cosby has had little to say publicly about the scandal, though he did address his silence last month before his stand-up concert tour began to crumble, with at least 10 shows in as many states canceled or indefinitely postponed.
“I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos,” he told Florida Today newspaper.
Attorney Martin Singer has done most of the talking, dismissing allegations as “fantastical,” ”unsubstantiated” and “uncorroborated.”
Singer has attacked the one lawsuit alleging sex abuse, saying the woman who claimed Cosby drugged and molested her at the Playboy mansion in 1974 when she was 15 had tried to extort $250,000 from the star. Singer tried to undermine her assertion that she only recently discovered the trauma by saying she tried to peddle her story to a tabloid 10 years ago.
Prosecutors in Los Angeles on Tuesday declined to press charges in that case because the statute of limitations had expired.
The age of the accusations is probably Cosby’s best legal defense at this point, sparing him exposure to criminal charges, said attorney Mark Geragos, who has defended Chris Brown and Winona Ryder.
Similarly, Geragos thinks a judge will throw out a defamation suit brought by a woman who said Cosby effectively called her a liar in 2005 when he said her allegations of being drugged and fondled were false and that he didn’t know her.
The job of Cosby’s lawyer is to prevent a repeat of that scenario by keeping him out of the limelight so he doesn’t breathe new life into old accusations, Geragos said. It’s somewhat akin to a lawyer not having their client testify, which can expose them to battering cross examination.
“What you have is this inherent tension of dealing with his legacy versus his realistic jeopardy,” Geragos said. “The reason you don’t have him respond is you don’t want to reinvigorate some legal action.”
That may be at odds with what a crisis counselor would suggest.
Often, they want a client to be as open as possible, apologize for any wrongdoing and promise not to do it again, said Daniel Keeney, of DPK Public Relations in Dallas.
Even if Cosby’s innocent, he could still be accused of libel depending what he says, Volokh said. And an apology could be seen as an admission that could revive an old case.
“It’s a difficult zone to navigate,” Volokh said. “Do I leave my reputation tarnished or do I say something that might even tarnish my reputation further?”
If he continues to “hunker in the bunker,” he could be criticized for hiding but he may ultimately weather the tempest, Keeney said. Eventually, some other scandal will come along and bump him out of the headlines.
What Cosby and his handlers have to determine is the end game. Does Cosby want to return to the stage, revive the TV show that was in the works and salvage his legacy?
At 77, Cosby may not have the two to three years it could take for a comeback, Keeney said.
“There’s not a lot of landing strip,” he said. “The other alternative is to call it a career and put up the going out of business sign.”
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