Woman seeks revival of defamation suit against Bill Cosby

A woman who says Bill Cosby raped her in a Michigan hotel room more than four decades ago should be allowed to sue for defamation, because the comedian “knows she is not lying about the rape,” her attorney said Wednesday.

F. William Salo told a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Cosby destroyed Katherine McKee’s reputation when his lawyer wrote a letter demanding a retraction of a 2014 New York Daily News story about her rape allegations.

“For the past 40 years, Cosby has used his ability and his power as someone who can manipulate the media to intimidate, harass and keep his accusers silent,” Salo said. “That’s what happened to Katherine McKee.”

McKee was among dozens of women who came forward with allegations against the actor once known as “America’s Dad” for his TV role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable. McKee claims Cosby raped her in a Detroit hotel room in 1974. Cosby has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

In the letter at issue in McKee’s case, Cosby’s lawyer accused the New York Daily News of ignoring things that would have shown her story wasn’t credible, including positive statements the lawyer claims McKee made about Cosby after the encounter.

Cosby’s lawyer told the judges that a federal court in Massachusetts was right to dismiss McKee’s lawsuit on the grounds that the letter was protected by the First Amendment. McKee would have to prove that Cosby acted with actual malice because she became a kind of public figure when she gave the interview, Alan Greenberg said.

“She went public in the biggest way on the biggest stage that there is. She gave an exclusive interview to the Daily News,” Greenberg said.

Salo argued that McKee’s interview didn’t make her a public figure and therefore she didn’t need to prove actual malice. To show actual malice, she would have to prove Cosby knew statements in the letter were false or entertained serious doubts as to whether they might be true.

The judges are expected to rule in the coming weeks.

A separate defamation lawsuit filed by seven other women is also pending in Massachusetts, where Cosby owns a home. The 80-year-old has filed a counter lawsuit accusing those women of defamation.

The only criminal case against Cosby ended in a mistrial in Pennsylvania in June. Cosby is expected to be retried in April on charges that he drugged and molested an employee of Temple University, his alma mater. Cosby insists their encounter was consensual.

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