The seedy underbelly of Hollywood is finally being exposed.
Sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have seen their careers and reputations implode amid credible allegations.
Now Bill Cosby, America’s Dad of the 1980s, finds himself back in the sexual misconduct pressure cooker.
Cosby was accused of drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women over decades. His previous court battle ended in a mistrial, but proceedings are about to begin anew.
The Bill Cosby case — which heads back to trial on Monday — is a litmus test in many ways. Perhaps the most pertinent is that it may wind up being one of the only court cases involving the men whose alleged sexual misconduct was recently exposed, helping lead to the #MeToo movement.
While famous men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and many others have seen their careers upended after various accusations, most haven’t faced criminal charges (Weinstein is being investigated). Cosby has a lot on the line. As his own lawyers put it during jury selection, he faces the potential of spending the rest of his life behind bars.
Cosby is plenty cognizant of #MeToo and #TimesUp. In January, he made a trip to a Philadelphia Italian restaurant with friends and publicists and invited several reporters to join. He told them he was ready for this upcoming trial and added to a female journalist, “Please don’t put me on #MeToo.”
Like last year, the trial will come down to the jurors’ belief as to what transpired between Cosby and Andrea Constand in 2004. Constand, who met Cosby while working for the Temple University women’s basketball team, alleges he gave her three blue pills and digitally penetrated her and forced her to touch his penis while she was unable to consent.
Cosby’s attorneys, led by Hollywood stalwart Tom Mesereau, routinely brought up their concerns about #MeToo in pretrial hearings. They succeeded in getting a motion approved to ban visitors from wearing any pins, caps or other apparel supporting sexual assault victims inside the Montgomery County Courthouse.
But the cultural shift could still infiltrate the courtroom. Barbara Ashcroft, a law professor at Temple and a former Montgomery County assistant district attorney who was in the office when Cosby was initially investigated in 2005, has seen it in Judge Steven O’Neill’s rulings. For the original trial, he allowed one previous Cosby accuser to testify. This time, five women are allowed to testify.
“Has the law changed or have the facts changed? I don’t think so,” Ashcroft said. “I think what has changed is the momentum and the energy and the climate of the #MeToo movement.”
During the first two days of jury selection, O’Neill asked 240 prospective jurors whether they’d heard of #MeToo. Every potential juror except for two said they had. Jurors weren’t selected unless they made clear in individual interviews they would separate what they’d heard about #MeToo from what they hear in the courtroom regarding Cosby.
Some potential jurors couldn’t help themselves from sharing their thoughts about the movement. After saying he could be fair and impartial, a 40-something white man with facial hair said, “I think a lot of people are jumping on the bandwagon.” An elderly white woman said, “I’m not happy with that culture, but…”
O’Neill cut her off. He said, “You’re aware they are not the subject of this specific case.” Neither potential juror was selected.
The jury features seven men and five women, two African-Americans and 10 whites, the same composition as the first trial. Four of the 12 jurors are young, seemingly in their 20s and 30s. The defense used three out of its six peremptory challenges to dismiss potential young jurors, and it’s possible they feared their association with the #MeToo culture.
The evidence against Cosby appears mountainous, but he wouldn’t be the first celebrity to skate despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
However, the current political climate certainly won’t do him any favors.
Cosby’s reputation is already tarnished. If he loses his court battle, he will most certainly die in prison, which would be a tragic ending for a former icon.