Fine-tuning the definition of defamation, via Bill Cosby

Kristina Ruehli, who accused Bill Cosby last year of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 1965, filed a defamation lawsuit in Massachusetts.

Source: Bill Cosby Faces New Suit for Saying Accuser Lied – The New York Times begins:

A New Hampshire woman who accused Bill Cosby last year of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 1965 has sued the entertainer, contending that he wrongly branded her a liar after she came forward.

In a federal lawsuit, filed on Monday in Massachusetts, Kristina Ruehli says Mr. Cosby, through his former lawyer Martin D. Singer, defamed her in a statement he released after Philadelphia Magazine published an article last November about her accusations.

Again, here’s the Black’s Law Dictionary definition of defamation:

defamation, n. 1. The act of harming the reputation of another by making a false statement to a third person. If the alleged defamation involves a matter of public concern, the plaintiff is constitutionally required to prove both the statement’s falsity and the defendant’s fault. 2. A false written or oral statement that damages another’s reputation.

Further, the Times article says this about the lawsuit:

Ms. Ruehli says in the lawsuit that she came forward to support other women who had decided to accuse Mr. Cosby publicly. After her accusations were published in the magazine, the suit says, Mr. Singer released a statement in which he called the women’s accusations “unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40, or even 50 years ago.”

Oh, wait a minute. Apparently Singer didn’t name Ms. Ruehli specifically, and I don’t know that “unsubstantiated, fantastical stories” translate into “lies.”

The Times continues, quoting Ms. Ruehli’s lawyer:

Ms. Ruehli’s lawyer, Megan C. Deluhery, said in a statement that “Ms. Ruehli stands ready to tell her story, under oath, to a jury of her peers and allow them to pass judgment and affirm that Ms. Ruehli’s account, like so many others, is true, and the only other person in the room that night in 1965 surely knows it.”

I don’t doubt Ms. Reuhli’s claim: there seems to be such a heavy, heavy weight of nearly identical experiences and subsequent accusations. But this is not a sexual assault lawsuit. So I have to wonder what will happen to this case.

Ms. Ruehli has to prove not that she wasn’t a liar–which, in these circumstances, would be difficult enough, since it’s a he-said-she-said situation without eye witnesses–but that (1) Cosby’s lawyer was referring to her, even though he didn’t name her and (2) that “unsubstantiated, fantastical stories” equate unquestionably with “lies.”

But of course I’m not a lawyer so I could be wrong. Or maybe the Cosby camp will decide it’d be better to settle this out of court more or less quietly. They have so much going on right now.

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