Judge tosses Pennsylvania woman’s defamation suit vs. Cosby

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, file photo, comedian Bill Cosby performs during a show at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Fla. More than a dozen of Cosby's accusers will have their say in a TV special. The A&E channel said "Cosby: The Women Speak," airing 9 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, will detail the allegations they've made and the damage to Cosby's career and image. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Pittsburgh-area woman who claims Bill Cosby defamed her when he and his representatives responded to allegations that he drugged and sexually assaulted her and other women.

The October lawsuit filed by Renita Hill, 48, of Baldwin, was dismissed with prejudice, meaning she cannot try to amend and re-file it.

Hill went public with her allegations in November 2014 in an interview on Pittsburgh’s KDKA-TV in which she said she was “emboldened” by other women who had made similar accusations against Cosby.

Her lawsuit said she was made out to be a “liar” and “extortionist” when the comedian, his wife and his attorney issued blanket denials.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab agreed with Cosby’s attorneys that the statements were opinions protected by the First Amendment.

“Even considering these three statements together as a combined, single statement, this newly ‘conjoined’ statement does not lead to an inference that plaintiff is a ‘liar and an extortionist,'” the judge wrote.

Cosby’s attorneys referred questions to a spokeswoman who didn’t immediately comment on the ruling.

Hill’s attorney, George Kontos, promised to appeal saying he strongly disagreed with the judge’s reasoning.

“The basis of his opinion is these are constitutionally protected, ‘pure’ opinions,” Kontos said. “But, looked at as a whole, they contain all sorts of innuendo and undisclosed facts.”

A day after Hill’s interview, Cosby attorney Martin Singer issued a statement saying: “The new, never-before-heard claims from women who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40, or even 50 years ago have escalated far past the point of absurdity.”

Cosby and his wife, Camille, made separate statements in the weeks that followed, with Cosby saying he refused to respond to “innuendos” and inviting the public to “fact-check” his accusers. Camille Cosby accused media outlets of violating rules of journalistic integrity by publishing some of the allegations without properly “vetting” Cosby’s accusers.

Kontos had argued in an earlier court filing that those statements weren’t pure opinions protected by the First Amendment because they included “undisclosed facts” — namely, the implication that Hill and the other accusers are lying.

But Judge Schwab found the statements citing innuendo and fact-checking were “a far cry” from labeling the accusers liars and extortionists.

Cosby has yet to respond specifically to Hill’s allegations that he drugged and molested her several times after they met on the TV show, “Picture Pages,” in 1983. Hill claims that went on for about four years, starting when she was 16, and that Cosby helped pay for her college and would fly her to cities where he was performing, until she cut off contact with him about four years later.

Seven women are suing Cosby in federal court in Massachusetts for defamation. Like Hill, those women contend Cosby defamed them by allowing his representatives to brand them as liars.

In December, Cosby countersued, saying the women made “malicious, opportunistic, and false and defamatory accusations” against him for monetary gain.

Since then, Cosby has been criminally charged in suburban Philadelphia with sexually assaulting a woman in 2004 after giving her drugs that made her drowsy and unable to resist. A judge has set a Feb. 2 hearing on a motion by Cosby’s attorneys to have those charges dismissed.

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