For most people, Bill Cosby lost his presumption of innocence dozens of accusers ago. In the 13 years since he invited Andrea Constand, then a 31-year-old employee of the Temple University athletic department, to his sprawling home in Elkins, Pennsylvania, and offered her a glass of wine and pills, his reputation as an everyman comedian, a national father figure who repeatedly broke ground as an African-American and the highest-paid person in show business has been thoroughly shattered. Everything that followed from that night – the subsequent police investigation, a lawsuit, a settlement, a leaked deposition, viral social media memes and scores of women emboldened to come forward (57 in all) with similar stories of Cosby first approaching them as a mentor, then offering them a drink that left them unconscious, naked and bruised – cemented perceptions of the entertainer as a serial rapist.
“I can’t identify one other case in which the public has so conclusively come to the verdict of guilty,” says Angela Agrusa, who along with Brian McMonagle is defending Cosby against criminal charges of sexually assaulting Constand in the first and so far only prosecution to emerge from the dozens of public accusations against the comedian. Set to begin June 5 and expected to run for two weeks, the trial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a leafy Montgomery County suburb outside of Philadelphia, is certain to become the type of media circus unseen since O.J. Simpson’s murder trial. If convicted, Cosby could be sentenced to 30 years in prison. “This case is so difficult – it reminds me of an appeal,” says Agrusa in her first extensive interview about the defense that she plans to mount for Cosby. (THR asked prosecutors to outline their case against Cosby, too, but the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office declined to speak ahead of the trial.) “It’s like the court of public opinion has found him guilty, and our job as lawyers is we now have to convince not just the judge but also the public why the initial verdict is wrong. The burden of proof for this one human being has shifted.”
Cosby, 79, has said little publicly since October 2014, when a stand-up routine by comedian Hannibal Buress encouraging people to “Google ‘Bill Cosby rape'” brought wide attention to the accusations made by Constand and others. Soon after, Netflix shelved a stand-up special it already had taped, NBC killed a sitcom it was developing for Cosby, and one concert booker after another canceled his appearances. So pervasive is the presumption of guilt surrounding Cosby that the normal rules of a criminal defense – go for an acquittal at all costs, including the client’s loss of public standing – do not apply. Instead, his legal team plans to aim squarely at what’s now a near-universal distrust of the entertainer. “The challenge for us is to change the optics,” says Agrusa, a partner at Liner in Los Angeles.
The daughter of a police officer, Agrusa, 54, developed an Atticus Finch-style idealistic interest in the legal system while growing up in Orange County, California. After graduating from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, she interned for the ACLU, but the realities of student debt – and later providing for two sons, now teenagers – pushed her toward corporate law. She has represented such unpopular clients as Dow Corning in cases regarding silicone breast implants, but Cosby by far is the most toxic.
When Cosby faced an onslaught of allegations of assaulting women, he first turned to Marty Singer, who protected Cosby’s reputation for years and has made a practice out of representing stars like Charlie Sheen facing scandals. But after a Singer statement to the media led to the attorney being named in defamation suits filed by Cosby’s accusers, Cosby turned to L.A.’s hardball litigation firm, Quinn Emanuel. His legal bills were rumored to be running several hundred thousand dollars a month, and a year later, Cosby switched to Agrusa on the recommendation of fellow Liner partner Kirk Pasich, who represents Cosby in insurance matters.
In a survey of 65 top entertainment attorneys by THR, 83 percent said they wouldn’t take Cosby as a client, but Agrusa isn’t bothered by her peers. “If me, Marty Singer and Quinn Emanuel are in the minority of lawyers in Hollywood who would take on Mr. Cosby’s representation, I like the company,” she says. (It’s worth noting, too, that among those who said they would be willing to defend Cosby, two-thirds said they expect him to be found guilty.)
It is fitting that Constand’s case against Cosby is the one on which his freedom is staked since it was her complaint that kicked off the sequence of events that made the comedian, once one of the Gallup Poll’s Most Admired Men, a persona non grata. Some of the accusations against Cosby date back decades, and many of the alleged victims said they were too fearful of Cosby’s influence in the entertainment industry to go to the police or to the public. “For 40 years, I didn’t say anything because I thought it was just me,” says Kathy McKee, a former L.A. morning talk show host who has accused Cosby of raping her in 1974 in a Detroit hotel room while she was on tour with Sammy Davis Jr. “Imagine a girl in the early 1970s trying to make it in Hollywood and have a career. He was in his heyday when it happened. My common sense told me nobody would believe me.”
Constand, however, did file a complaint with law enforcement in 2005, and when the district attorney declined to prosecute, she filed a civil lawsuit that year that had two remarkable features. One was the appearance of 13 “Jane Does” – women with their own assault stories about Cosby who said they were prepared to testify at trial. The other was Cosby’s deposition, in which the entertainer admitted to much of the alleged behavior but insisted it was entirely consensual.
The civil suit would settle for millions and might have become a footnote in Cosby’s biography. (Of the many accusers, all predate Constand.) But when people followed the imploration to Google “Bill Cosby rape,” one of the results was a largely forgotten Philadelphia magazine feature from 2006 that included allegations of assault by Constand and three other women. While Cosby’s deposition in that suit once was sealed, excerpts published in 2015 by THR, followed by other news outlets, cemented the perception of Cosby as a monster. In it, Constand’s attorney asked: “When you got the quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?”
Cosby replied, “Yes.”
Source: The Hollywood Reporter |