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Court cannot unring the bell for Bill Cosby deposition



By Laura Mallory

Courts lack the ability to make something private once it has been made public. That reasoning was used by a federal appeals court when it denied Bill Cosby’s request to reseal a deposition after it was made available to the public.

This case arises out of allegations that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in her home. During the pendency of that case, Cosby was deposed and questioned about his relationships with other women and whether any of those women ingested Quaaludes before a sexual encounter with him. Cosby admitted in his deposition that he engaged in extramarital affairs, provided Quaaludes to a woman and then engaged in sexual relations with her, and also gave money to one woman and offered money to another.

Eight years pass
Given Cosby’s fame, it is not surprising that news outlets were interested in the case. After a request for documents from a news outlet, the court entered an interim order that sealed filings until the court had enough information to determine whether a permanent seal of the documents was warranted. Before the court could make that determination, the parties reached a confidential settlement. Normally, under such a scenario, the clerk of court should have sent a notice to the parties that the documents will be unsealed unless an objection is filed. However, the clerk failed to do so and eight years elapsed. 

A news outlet then requested the notice be sent by the clerk. After Cosby received the notice, he filed an objection to the unsealing of the documents and a hearing was held. The court ordered that the documents be immediately unsealed. Cosby failed to file a stay of that order until it could appeal the decision, which resulted in Cosby’s deposition being available to the public. Within just hours, multiple news outlets reported on the case and a full copy of the deposition was in the hands of the media. 

This issue before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia was whether Cosby’s request to reseal the documents was moot because the information was already public.

An appeal is deemed moot when the court cannot provide the prevailing party with any relief. Cosby argued that his appeal was not moot because resealing the documents would slow their dissemination and it might limit the use of these documents in any future legal proceedings against him. 

The court rejected Cosby’s argument and opined that it is without power to affect the dissemination of unsealed documents. Five prominent news organizations published articles about the unsealed documents only hours after they were unsealed. A Google search for “Bill Cosby deposition testimony” actually yields results which contain Cosby’s entire deposition. The rationale is that if anyone could obtain these documents on the Internet, why would they file a public records request (which the court could control). 

As a result, the court denied the appeal as moot. The court held that resealing the documents would not provide Cosby with any meaningful relief.




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