A panel of appellate court justices appeared poised to allow former supermodel Janice Dickinson’s defamation lawsuit against Bill Cosby to proceed and also permit her to reinstate the comedian’s former attorney as a defendant.
The three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal issued tentative rulings Thursday that would uphold Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Debre Katz Weintraub’s 2016 rejection of Cosby’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but reverse her decision that removed lawyer Martin Singer from the case.
The 80-year-old Cosby’s lawyers maintained in an their appeal that Weintraub erred in March 2016 when she denied their motion to dismiss Dickinson’s lawsuit in its entirety on free-speech grounds. Weintraub granted part of the motion, but allowed the thrust of Dickinson’s lawsuit to move forward against the former “I Spy” television series co-star. Dickinson appealed the part of the case that Weintraub dismissed as well as the judge’s February 2016 ruling that eliminated Singer from the case.
Dickinson sued Cosby in May 2014, saying she has been re-victimized and her reputation has suffered because of denials by Singer of her allegations that the entertainer drugged and raped her in a Lake Tahoe hotel room more than 30 years ago.
The defamation allegations against Cosby are imputed to him in the lawsuit on grounds that Singer was acting on the comedian’s behalf. Cosby’s lawyer, Alan Greenberg, told the justices that Singer did what any attorney would do in his situation by standing up for his client and doing so within the parameters of the First Amendment.
Greenberg said Dickinson’s rape allegations she made during media interviews in 2014 contradicted what she wrote in a book years earlier.
“This was an attorney’s effort to refute her story with her own words,” Greenberg said.
Justice Laurence Rubin said Cosby and Singer might have avoided the suit if the lawyer had written the denial more carefully. But the bluntness of the denial and the challenge of Dickinson’s credibility made it appear that rather than expressing an opinion, Singer was stating facts that can be proven true or false, Rubin said.
Greenberg said after the hearing that he believes Cosby will win if the case goes to trial.
Dickinson filed an amended complaint in November 2015, adding Singer as a defendant. However, Weintraub ruled that Dickinson could not revise the complaint to add Singer because the model was aware of the lawyer’s alleged comments before the original lawsuit was filed.
Singer’s legal team maintains that Dickinson’s attorneys were barred from amending the original case and adding their client as a defendant while a hearing was pending on Cosby’s motion to dismiss the original lawsuit.
But Justice Elizabeth Grimes appeared skeptical of the argument.
“Bringing Mr. Singer into the case had nothing to do with Ms. Dickinson and Mr. Cosby,” Grimes said. “That’s none of your business.”
Grimes said Dickinson’s lawyers were apparently waiting to bring Singer into the case until they knew the supermodel had the legal basis to sue him.
Singer’s lawyer, Jeremy Rosen, said outside the courtroom that his client may take his argument to the state Supreme Court if he is reinstated as a defendant. Rosen also said that Singer has not yet had a chance to present a defense to the allegations and that he will do so if the part of the case against him goes to trial.
Dickinson’s lawyer, Jivaka Candappa, said after the hearing that Dickinson was courageous to come forward with her case and that her lawyers stand by her now more than ever.
“Our willingness to fight for her has not wavered,” Candappa said.
Dickinson, 62, is one of dozens of women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault. Cosby fired Singer in October 2015.
The comedian was not charged with a crime until December 2015, when he was charged in Pennsylvania with aggravated indecent assault. Prosecutors allege he sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, in January 2004 after plying her with drugs and wine. The first trial ended in a mistrial and a retrial is pending.
–City News Service