Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cosby: Act II of the Scandal

“If you’re going to be a public moralist, you accept a moral obligation: Be what you said you were. You don’t have to be perfect; perfection is not within the human repertoire. But there is a vast gulf between ‘not perfect’ and ‘accused serial rapist.’

“Cosby’s failure leaves his career, reputation and legacy in shambles — and increases cynicism in a nation where that quality is not in short supply. He has left us with one fewer repository for public trust.”— Leonard Pitts Jr., “Bill Cosby’s Moralizing Undercut by Immoral Acts,” The Miami Herald, July 11, 2015

Pitts’ summary of Bill Cosby is not in the past tense, but it might as well be. The last details of the comedian-actor’s obituary remain to be written, but his career as an entertainer is effectively over, following release of a deposition in which he admitted to the act that he and his retinue had adamantly denied for years: i.e., supplying Quaaludes to women with the intention of having sex with them.

Given Cosby’s age (78), his multi-decade sexual offenses, and the most egregious blame-the-victim strategy in many a year, he won’t live long enough to be part of our cultural discourse anymore, let alone earn public forgiveness. If the stress doesn’t get him in the meantime, he’ll be an unwilling witness to the division of his own spoils, as enough women to fill the Playboy Mansion line up for a cut of a fortune accumulated over a half century.

The latest revelation, which attracted as much news coverage as the arms deal with Iran, should not have come as a surprise—indeed, in a prior post, I noted just what a suspension of disbelief was required to accept Cosby’s denial of the claims of more than 20 different women. 

But the news seems to have broken the back of even last-ditch defenders such as Whoopi Goldberg, in much the same way that the release of the “smoking gun” Watergate tape destroyed any chance that Richard Nixon could survive an impeachment attempt.

Yet, while our understanding of what happened with the celebrity has concluded, Act II of this legal drama has just begun. Now, his courtroom handlers will have to explain what possessed them to abet what in retrospect looks like a scorched-earth policy.

Specifically, they themselves this time should provide answers under oath—about how, despite a confidentiality agreement, Cosby and his representatives continued to mischaracterize his testimony in the 2006 case involving former Temple University employee Andrea Constand. These misrepresentations involved nothing more or less than spinning the truth until it was downright dizzy.

Lawyers do not ask themselves too many questions about the guilt of the people they represent; the profession, after all, believes that the client is entitled to the best defense (and if guilty clients were never represented, the entire legal profession would go hungry).

But somewhere along the line, a hyperaggressive defense in Cosby’s case increasingly came close to shading into what attorneys call “prevarication.”

This is what happens with the art of spin. We have seen it happen all too often already, in politics, starting with Richard Nixon and Watergate, then practiced to varying degrees by all Presidents since then. In this media age, lawyers have become not just cunning courtroom practitioners but, in effect, spokespeople for their silenced and cowed clients.

But now, the defense of the indefensible has taken a dangerous turn. Public trust corrodes when representatives of our legal system not only file superfluous motions or sow doubt among jurors about a witness’s recollections, but also offer misleading accounts about legal outcomes.

Comments late last year by Cosby lawyer Martin Singer were taken apart in a devastating post by Jack Marshall on his blog “Ethics Alarms.” Far from being “fantastical,” as Singer had claimed, Marshall pointed out just how many victims' claims against Cosby there were. And, questioning in 2014 why so many women had “made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims,” as Singer did, is a stretch of the circumstances, given that Cosby settled Constand’s lawsuit—as well the entertainer might, given that the plaintiff had 13 alleged Cosby victims prepared to testify on her behalf.

“If the only way a lawyer can represent his client zealously is to actively endorse and abet the client’s lies, then the lawyer should withdraw from the representation,” Marshall wrote then. Singer’s bashing of Cosby’s accusers earned an “Unethical Quote of the Week” post from Marshall.

When Cosby’s victims are done with him, they should turn on his legal jackal. Singer’s Web site links to articles hailing him as being among the “Attack Dogs of LA Law” and “Guard Dog to the Stars (Legally Speaking).”  More and more, these headlines look less like compliments and more like evidence to be presented before an ethics panel.

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