Bill Cosby marked an upset victory Thursday when a federal judge threw out a civil suit filed against him by one of the five-dozen women who have accused him of drugging and/or sexually assaulting them in decades past.
A defamation lawsuit filed in October by Renita Hill, 48, of suburban Pittsburgh, was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab "with prejudice," meaning she cannot try to amend and re-file it.
Hill alleged Cosby drugged and molested her for years, starting when she was 16, when she worked with him on a children's TV show in Pittsburgh starting in 1983. Hill went public with her allegations in November 2014, after other accusers had already stepped forward.
Like several other Cosby accusers, she filed suit after Cosby and his lawyers denied all wrongdoing in several statements. Hill's lawsuit argued that Cosby defamed her in his denials, by suggesting she was a "liar and an "extortionist."
At the time, Cosby's then-attorney, Martin Singer, said in a statement that accusers' claims were "unsubstantiated, fantastical stories."
Cosby's legal team has vigorously fought the seven civil suits filed against him; so far, a similar defamation suit in federal court in Massachusetts (where Cosby has a home) has survived his efforts to have it dismissed.
But the judge in the Pittsburgh case agreed with Cosby's arguments that his and his lawyers' statements and denials in response to the accusations 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,'" Schwab wrote, according to the Associated Press.
"Obviously we are disappointed," said Hill's attorney, George Kontos, adding he "strongly disagreed" with the reasoning of the ruling. He promised to appeal.
Kontos had argued that Cosby's statements were more than just protected opinion, they contained "innuendo and undisclosed facts," including the implication that the accusers were lying.
"We remain committed to pursuing these claims and to having our day in court," Kontos said.
Cosby's legal spokeswoman has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Besides Cosby and his lawyers, his wife, Camille, is a defendant in the Hill suit, because of the sole statement she has made about the accusations against her husband, when she raised questions about the motivations of the accusers and said the media failed to adequately vet them.
In the Massachusetts defamation case, which involves seven accuser-plaintiffs, Cosby has been unable to persuade another federal judge to dismiss it or to permanently block depositions.
Meanwhile, Cosby counter-sued the seven accusers in December, saying the women made "malicious, opportunistic, and false and defamatory accusations" against him for monetary gain.
Also in December, Cosby was — for the first time — criminally charged in suburban Philadelphia with drugging and sexually assaulting one of his accusers, at his home in Montgomery County, Pa., in 2004. The state judge in that case has set a Feb. 2 hearing on a motion by Cosby's attorneys to have those charges dismissed.
The district attorney, Kevin Steele, argued against that Wednesday, saying in court filings that Cosby is seeking special treatment in trying to get the charges dismissed before the first evidence hearing.