Bill Cosby is the subject of more sexual assault allegations than any one celebrity in recent memory. At last count, we know about 15 alleged victims—that's a whole lot of women with similar accounts about being attacked by Cosby. Most of the claims appear to involve alcohol, possibly drugs and some accusers not remembering everything, then waking up in various states of undress before realizing they were violated. These similarities don’t prove any of the allegations, but they speak to modus operandi—if it happened once, then maybe it happened over and over and over again for years.
A lot of commenters on social media have taken sides in this case, and they've stated one way or the other that they think Cosby’s accusers are lying. We don’t know—they could be right—or the image of TV dad Heathcliff Huxtable sexually assaulting someone is just too much for many to fathom. But the frenzied social media defense of Cosby has been ruthless, with folks asking why victims waited so long—in some cases years—to come forward, and whether some victims have ulterior motives. Mind you, some of these victims reported the incidents years ago and nothing was done. Nobody believed them. After all, he’s Bill Cosby. Of course he wouldn’t do that.
But if Cosby’s being lied on, then why won’t he sue the alleged victims for slander, libel or defamation? He could clear his name in the court of public opinion and litigiously squash these claims—like one that his lawyers called a “lie” and another that his lawyers called “discredited.” After all, he has enough money to retain the best lawyers in the country, file multiple lawsuits against the women accusing him and show the world he’s the innocent Cosby we all grew to love years ago.
When a person is sued for defamation, though, he or she has the right to countersue to prove that he or she didn’t lie.
If Cosby sued, it would open him up to accusers’ counterclaims against him. He’d be subjected to depositions and required to give sworn testimony about the allegations in the counterclaimants’ efforts to discredit his lawsuit. Cosby's actions would become an open book. Evidence could be subpoenaed, and witnesses such as police officers, agents, hotel staff and others could be required to testify. The allegations would be disputed in open court for all to see. Cosby would get his day in court—and so would his accusers.
Instead of asking why they took so long to come forward and claiming that their stories must be bogus, Cosby could sue them for lying, and then we’d probably get to see more clearly what happened in all those alleged incidents. That’s what he should do.
Right now I’m betting he won't.
Eric Guster is a civil rights and criminal-defense trial lawyer. He appears regularly on HLN, MSNBC, Fox and CNN as a legal analyst and commentator. Follow him on Twitter. Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.