Lawyers for Bill Cosby have suggested for the first time that racial bias is to blame as he faces the prospect of 13 women – 12 of them white – giving evidence in court that he drugged and molested them.
The 79-year-old comedian’s legal team raised the issue on the courthouse steps after a hearing in his criminal sex assault case in suburban Philadelphia.
Whether they intend to bring up race in the courtroom remains to be seen. At a minimum, some legal experts said the defence is trying to influence potential jurors.
“I think that you’ve always got to have in mind who’s your jury pool,” said Los Angeles lawyer Mark Geragos, whose clients have included Michael Jackson. “That’s probably the end game.”
Or the lawyers may have been dutifully carrying out Cosby’s instructions: “It could well be they are expressing the concerns of the client,” said Carl Douglas, who was on OJ Simpson’s legal team.
Cosby is set to go on trial next June on charges that he drugged and sexually violated Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. He could get 10 years in prison if convicted.
In bringing up race, his legal team took aim at celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents about half the women who have agreed to give evidence against Cosby.
Ms Allred “calls herself a civil rights attorney, but her campaign against Mr Cosby builds on racial bias and prejudice that can pollute the court of public opinion”, the lawyers said in a statement.
“Mr Cosby is no stranger to discrimination and racial hatred. When the media repeats her accusations – with no evidence, no trial and no jury – we are moved backwards as a country and away from the America that our civil rights leaders sacrificed so much to create.”
Ms Allred called the tactic “desperate”.
“It is ironic that a man who has chastised the black poor for making race an excuse would now have to lean upon that as part of his defence strategy,” said Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, a black scholar and author of the book Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?
Cosby’s lawyers have not raised any bias claims in court during their myriad efforts to get the case thrown out. The focus for now is on keeping out the most damning evidence, including Cosby’s 2005 deposition in which he admitted using drugs and alcohol to seduce women. The defence will also fight strenuously to keep other accusers off the stand.
His lawyers have asked to have the trial moved out of suburban Montgomery County, where the case was a major topic in the election campaign for district attorney last autumn. Lead defence lawyer Brian McMonagle suggested that the jury be drawn instead from Philadelphia.
Montgomery County is 80% white and 10% black. In Philadelphia, the racial split is nearly even.