Bill Cosby planning his post-prison comeback

Caption
Bill Cosby , Is Released From Prison, After Conviction Vacated by Pennsylvania Court.On June 30, Bill Cosby's conviction was overturned by a Pennsylvania appeals court, and he was released from prison.'The New York Times' reports that the 7-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Mr. Cosby had been denied a fair trial in 2018.The judges reportedly said that a “non-prosecutionagreement” made with a previous prosecutor meantthat Mr. Cosby should not have been charged.The decision was made after serving three years of his 3-to-10-year prison sentence at a maximum-security facility in Pennsylvania.Mr. Cosby was arrested in 2015 on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his home eleven years earlier.At the end of the trial in April 2018, a jury convicted Mr. Cosby of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand.In 2019, an interim court upheld the trial verdict.In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor D.A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, appeals ruling, via 'The New York Times'.No other conclusion comports with the principles of due process and fundamental fairness to which all aspects of our criminal justice system must adhere, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, appeals ruling, via 'The New York Times'

PHILADELPHIA — Bill Cosby woke up Thursday in his Elkins Park mansion a free man for the first time in more than two years.

But what does his future hold after a surprise decision by the state’s highest court to toss the 83-year-old comedian’s sexual assault conviction and bar prosecutors from ever trying him again? Cosby’s planning a reunion with his wife, a possible return to the stage, and in the short term, “extra-crunchy” crust pizza, his spokesperson Andrew Wyatt said.

Comedian Bill Cosby, center, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, right, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby's home in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sex assault conviction. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Caption
Comedian Bill Cosby, center, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, right, approach members of the media gathered outside Cosby's home in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sex assault conviction. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Credit: Matt Slocum

Credit: Matt Slocum

Fielding questions from reporters outside the estate Thursday, Wyatt said Cosby is already busy at work plotting a comeback after spending his first night home from prison fielding congratulatory calls from his celebrity pals and noshing on pizza brought in from Zio’s in Center City.

“He stayed up until 2 in the morning telling jokes,” Wyatt said. “This morning, he’s been talking to a number of promoters and comedy club owners over his breakfast this morning. … He’s just excited the way the world is welcoming him back.”

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Whether Hollywood — and the American public — are ready to receive him remains an open question.

His shows have largely been pulled off the air. His finances have taken a significant hit since his 2015 arrest. And for all the post-prison plans Cosby is making, his accusers say they have plans, too — including holding Cosby and a justice system they say failed them accountable with new lawsuits and pushes for legislative reform.

“Mr. Cosby is not home free,” said celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who is pursuing a civil case against the entertainer on behalf of a Los Angeles accuser.

Though Cosby has always maintained his innocence, Wyatt said the timing of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday that led to the comedian’s release came as a surprise. Cosby learned of it from a prison guard in the state detention center outside Collegeville where he’d served more than two years of a three-to-10-year sentence.

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“An officer just opened up the cell door and said, ‘Hey, you getting out today,’” said Wyatt. “He heard all of this screaming from inmates knocking on the wall, ‘Get outta here, Bill! You’re free! Get outta here!’”

But advocates for victims of sexual assault have been quick to point out that the court’s decision was not based on the sufficiency of the evidence that led to his conviction and it did not amount to a pronouncement of innocence.

Instead, the justices’ ruling focused on an oral agreement Cosby elicited 16 years ago from former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. that he would never be prosecuted for his alleged 2004 assault of Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand if he agreed to sit for a deposition in a separate civil case she brought against him that eventually settled for $3.4 million.

On Thursday, the two ranking members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee — chair Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne) and Steve Santarsiero (D., Bucks) — announced they intended to pursue legislation that would make future non-prosecution agreements unenforceable unless they are memorialized in writing.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Cosby accusers still see him as a viable target for blockbuster legal settlements or judgments.

The only currently active civil suit stems from Allred’s client, Judy Huth, who contends in a sexual battery lawsuit filed in Los Angeles that Cosby forced her to perform a sex act on him at the Playboy Mansion in the ’70s when she was 15.

The case had been stayed by a judge until Cosby could be deposed. Now that he’s out of prison, Allred hopes to schedule his testimony within months.

He could also face additional suits, depending on what, if anything, he says next, said attorney Lisa Bloom, Allred’s daughter who represented supermodel Janice Dickinson, one of six Cosby accusers to testify against him at his 2018 trial.

Dickinson separately sued him for defamation when his representatives publicly denied her account that Cosby raped her in 1982. Her case ended with what Bloom described Thursday as “a substantial settlement.”

“Fresh claims for defamation” could emerge, Bloom said, should Cosby go on a post-prison publicity tour claiming vindication from his accusers.

But how much of his fortune is left after a seven-year scandal and his stint in prison is unclear.

Once an earnings juggernaut with residuals from reruns of The Cosby Show, appearance fees, and endorsements from brands like Jell-O, the comedian has legal bills that have been mounting for years — including payments owed to multiple sets of lawyers for two criminal trials, dozens of associated lawsuits, and the appeal that set him free.

Cosby’s insurer — American International Group — has quietly settled defamation suits from at least nine accusers, including Dickinson, over Cosby’s objections.

And though he and his wife, Camille, continue to hold ownership stakes in properties in California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York, they’ve shed real estate worth tens of millions as his legal woes grew.

On Thursday, Wyatt said the comedian is now mulling legal action of his own — a potential malicious prosecution suit against the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, based on the Supreme Court’s finding that it had violated his due process rights.

Castor, a former county commissioner, raised the prospect himself on Wednesday within hours of Cosby’s release.

“I immediately thought that that might be used contrary to the county, so I’m glad I’m not commissioner anymore,” he said.

(It’s possible prosecutors could seek to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling by urging the justices to reconsider or by challenging it in federal court, but legal experts described both strategies Thursday as unlikely to change anything.)

In the meantime, Cosby is already planning speaking tours, a push for criminal justice reform, and what his spokesperson described as advocacy for other Black men “who are incarcerated unjustly” — an agenda that infuriated one of the prosecutors who helped put Cosby behind bars.

Kristen Feden, a former Montgomery County assistant district attorney, objected to Cosby’s efforts to cloak himself in the rhetoric surrounding systemic racism in the justice system, given his status as one of the world’s most famous celebrities with access to top-flight lawyers — advantages not available to most.

“I’m disgusted by that when you take it in conjunction with his other statements such as that this overturned conviction is justice for Black Americans,” she told MSNBC. “As a Black female it makes me very sick to my stomach that he is exploiting Black Americans’ thirst for justice.”

Whatever his future plans, Cosby appeared for now just happy to be free as he left his Montgomery County home Thursday afternoon to reunite with his family for the first time since his sentencing in 2018. He asked them not to visit him in prison, Wyatt said.

The comedian flashed a peace sign to reporters but said nothing as Wyatt guided him to an awaiting SUV. They refused to say where they were going.

“Mrs. Cosby just wants him at home with her for a while,” he said. “She wants to spend time with her husband, and she said, ‘I want him all to myself.’”