TV

Lawsuit Accusing Bill Cosby of Sexual Assault Heads to Trial

Judy Huth met Bill Cosby when she was still a teenager, she has recounted in court papers. It was the mid-1970s, and Mr. Cosby had already had his breakthrough on the TV series “I Spy” and become a movie star, but was still years away from his huge success on “The Cosby Show.” Ms. Huth and a friend spotted him on a film set in a park in San Marino, Calif., And ended up meeting him in person, according to her court filings.

Days later, she asserts in the filings, she went to Mr. Cosby’s tennis club at his invitation, where he gave her and her friend alcohol before taking them to the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, where she accuses him of forcing her to perform a sex act on him in a bedroom. Mr. Cosby has described her account as a fabrication since the case was first filed in 2014.

This week the job of deciding who is credible will fall to a jury in Los Angeles Superior Court, as the civil trial of Mr. Cosby on Ms. Huth’s accusations that he sexually assaulted her is scheduled to get underway.

Ms. Huth’s recollection regarding when the encounter occurred has changed. She initially said that it had happened in 1974, when she was 15. But more recently she concluded that it was actually in 1975, when she was 16, according to court papers. Since the beginning, she has said in court papers that she recalled Mr. Cosby telling her and her friend to claim they were both 19 if asked at the mansion.

The change of dates has led Mr. Cosby’s team to further dispute her account. Andrew Wyatt, a spokesman for Mr. Cosby, said in a statement that Ms. Huth had “made inconsistent statements since the inception of filing this civil suit against Mr. Cosby. ” Ms. Huth has said that recently released information supplied by Mr. Cosby’s team had led her to reconsider what year it occurred.

The civil case, one of the last unsettled lawsuits against Mr. Cosby, was largely put on hold while prosecutors in Pennsylvania pursued the criminal case that resulted in his 2018 conviction on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. But the conviction was overturned, and Mr. Cosby was released from prison last year when an appellate panel found that his due process rights had been violated when prosecutors ignored an assurance from a prior district attorney that Mr. Cosby would not be prosecuted.

With the criminal case overturned, the significance of Ms. Huth’s suit has risen in the minds of some of the many women who have accused Mr. Cosby of being a sexual predator.

“I think that Judy’s trial may be our last stand for justice and seeing accountability come to fruition in our stand against Bill Cosby,” said Victoria Valentino, who says Mr. Cosby drugged and raped her in Los Angeles in 1969, said in a text. (Mr. Cosby has denied all allegations of sexual assault, and said any encounters were consensual.) She said she plans to attend part of the trial, which, barring a last-minute settlement, is set to begin with jury selection this week and opening arguments expected June 1.

Patricia Steuer, who accused Mr. Cosby of drugging and assaulting her in 1978 and 1980, said she saw the Huth civil trial as a chance to get a measure of justice. “There is no other recourse at the moment,” she said. “It probably is the only avenue available.”

Mr. Cosby, now 84, has already faced multiple other civil cases filed against him by women, many of whom sued him for defamation after his legal team dismissed as fictions their accusations of sexual misconduct by him. Eleven civil cases ended in settlements, with 10 of the settlements having been agreed to by Mr. Cosby’s former insurance company over his objections, according to his spokesman.

Ms. Huth’s lawsuit is poised to become the first civil case accusing Mr. Cosby of sexual assault to reach trial. In court papers, Ms. Huth says that in a bedroom at the Playboy Mansion, Mr. Cosby tried to put his hand down her pants and then forced her to fondle him.

Ms. Huth filed her suit in December 2014, at a time when Mr. Cosby was facing accusations by many women who said he had drugged and sexually assaulted them, in incidents spanning several decades.

She also reported her accusation to the police, but the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges because the statute of limitations had passed.

Her lawyers argued that the period for a civil claim had not expired, however, because in California it is extended for adults who say they were victims of sexual abuse as minors but repressed the experience. The deadline to file such a suit is determined in part by when the person, as an adult, becomes aware of the severe psychological effect of the abuse, her lawyers said.

In 2020, California law was amended to further extend the statute of limitations for sexual assault filings in civil court.

Ms. Huth’s revised timeline, which says Mr. Cosby assaulted her when she was 16 rather than 15, should not affect her ability to pursue the suit since the law views a 16-year-old as a minor, Ms. Huth’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, said.

Mr. Cosby’s lawyers argued in legal papers that they felt ambushed by the sudden change in Ms. Huth’s account. They said that their research had been geared towards establishing Mr. Cosby’s and Ms. Huth’s whereabouts in 1974, and said they had prepared evidence to show that the entertainer was not at the Playboy Mansion in the period she suggested in 1974.

Log books from the Playboy Mansion for 1974 do not list either Ms. Huth or her friend as having visited, according to Mr. Cosby’s lawyers.

At a hearing last week, the judge asked Playboy to produce records for 1975 and agreed that Ms. Huth and the friend who accompanied her should sit for a further deposition before the trial begins.

Mr. Cosby’s lawyers have also questioned whether she had only remembered the alleged abuse a short time before filing the suit because, they said, she had contacted a tabloid about it 10 years earlier.

Mr. Wyatt, the spokesman for Mr. Cosby, said in the statement, “We feel confident that the Playboy records along with Ms. Huth changing her timeline of events from 1974 to 1975 in the 11th hour will vindicate Mr. Cosby. ”

Mr. Cosby acknowledged meeting with Ms. Huth at the Playboy Mansion, and Ms. Huth has produced photographs of them together that she said were taken there, according to court papers. But he has denied that she was a minor when they met.

“While defending does not deny that he socialized with plaintiff at the Playboy Mansion, as he did other women and men who frequented the club,” his lawyers said in court papers, “defending vehemently denies that plaintiff was underage.”

Ms. Huth has said that she changed the timeline of her account in part because she only recently realized, as a result of documents put forward by Mr. Cosby, that the filming of the movie “Let’s Do It Again,” where she says they met, took place later than she had recalled.

The trial is expected to last two weeks, and Ms. Huth, who is seeking damages from Mr. Cosby, is expected to testify, along with the friend who accompanied her to the Playboy Mansion. Mr. Cosby has invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and will not testify. He will not attend the trial, Mr. Wyatt said.

During pretrial hearings, Ms. Huth had asked for a bench trial, but the trial will be in front of a 12-person jury, with at least 9 of 12 votes needed for a conviction.

Mr. Cosby settled a civil case Ms. Constand brought against him in 2006 for $ 3.4 million. The other civil cases were settled for undisclosed terms by the insurance carried on Mr. Cosby’s home policy, which provided “personal injury” coverage in a range of circumstances, including lawsuits that accused the policy holder of defamation.

The other ongoing civil case against Mr. Cosby was filed last year by Lili Bernard, an actor and visual artist, who accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her at a hotel in Atlantic City in 1990, when she was 26. She was able to file the suit, which is still in its early stages, because in 2019 New Jersey overhauled its laws on the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases, extending the time limit for filing suits and creating a special two-year window allowing people to bring cases regardless of how long ago the alleged assaults might have occurred.