Even If Criminal Case Is Hard to Prove, Arraignment Is ‘Seismic Shift’ for Bill Cosby

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It’s a spectacle that has seemed unlikely for the past year: Bill Cosby in the dock. 

But it happened Wednesday, when Cosby was arraigned in a Pennsylvania courthouse outside his hometown of Philadelphia on a criminal charge of aggravated indecent assault stemming from an 11-year-old case.

“This is a seismic shift for Bill Cosby,” says veteran publicist Howard Bragman, founder of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations. “In the past there was deniability and his attorneys could say he has never been charged criminally. All of a sudden the stakes have changed, and he could end up in jail” at age 78.

It’s the first time, after some 14 months of mounting scandal and shame, that Cosby has been charged in a criminal court in a case involving one of the nearly 60 women who say Cosby drugged and/or sexually assaulted them in episodes dating back to the mid-1960s.

Cosby, through his publicists and lawyers, has not commented on the criminal charge.

But legal experts, public-relations experts, his accusers and their lawyers, his defenders and his lawyers, not to mention scores of tweeters, all are now mulling the implications and repercussions for Cosby, his tattered career and reputation, and for the other accusers still hoping to make him pay for what they say he did to them. Some of them have already filed civil suits against him.

“It’s the beginning of the beginning of the end,” says Jerry Reisman, a partner at the Long Island firm of Reisman, Peirez, Reisman and Capobianco. “Because it is the first criminal action against him and it’s a very serious charge. The question is whether this case will stick.”

Indeed, neither Cosby nor prosecutors will have an easy time at trial, Reisman says, if for nothing else but the lapse of time and the lapse of memories over what will be a dozen years by the time the case is heard by a jury.

When ex-Temple University employee Andrea Constand first accused Cosby in 2005 of drugging and assaulting her at his then-Montgomery County, Pa., home in 2004, the then-prosecutor declined to bring charges for lack of evidence.

But now, with a 12-year statute of limitations looming at the end of January, Constand’s case has been re-opened. (She said she was grateful to the Pennsylvania prosecutors and police for bringing the case but otherwise declined further comment.)

It is possible that documents and depositions from the civil suit Constand and Cosby settled in 2006 could be used in the criminal case. including a damaging deposition in which Cosby acknowledged a pattern of obtaining drugs to give to women he sought for sex.

“It’s going to be Cosby’s word against hers at trial,” Reisman said. “(The other accusations made against Cosby) are not technically relevant in this criminal case, however it’s going to be very hard to find a juror unaware of them.”

Can he get a fair trial given the potential difficulties of finding impartial jurors?

“I would seriously question any juror that has not heard about the allegations against Cosby,” says defense attorney Stuart Slotnick, who specializes in white collar-crime cases. “Only those who have not lived on this planet will be ignorant of the charges. Getting a fair and impartial jury will be difficult, but it can be done.”

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Source: USA Today | Maria Puente