How Bill Cosby's team is defending its client in the press

Cosby's defense team worked to publicize a motion it filed last week to dismiss charges against the former sitcom star.

(Image via Cosby's Facebook page).
(Image via Cosby's Facebook page).

PHILADELPHIA: Bill Cosby’s legal defense team brought on Ripp Media in late September to assist with media relations for a motion it filed last week to dismiss criminal sexual assault charges against the actor in Pennsylvania.

Cosby is jointly represented by trial veterans Angela Agrusa of Liner LLP and Brian McMonagle of McMonagle, Perri, McHugh & Mishak. Agrusa, who hired Ripp in late September, said that the engagement with his firm was limited and has ended. She noted that her law firm may work with Ripp again in the future.

"Liner retained Ripp Media to assist with inquiries we were getting regarding the recent filing," said Agrusa. "It was a limited engagement, solely for purposes of fielding phone calls for me and my firm because when we are in litigation, we prefer not to talk to the press."

Ripp Media is the same shop that represented former Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson in a workplace sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit she filed against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes this summer. However, agency principal Allan Ripp explained that it was not contradictory for him to take on the Cosby matter.

"I am not an ideologue or a crusader," Ripp said. "We just like working with top-flight litigators who have credible cases and good stories. We would not have worked with [Carlson] had we not believed in the sincerity of her case and its worthiness, and I would not have agreed to work on this matter if I didn’t know the lawyers or hadn’t looked at their brief or interviewed them in terms of their integrity of the case."

The motion claimed the Montgomery County district attorney’s office pledged not to prosecute Cosby 11 years ago after a long investigation of claims made by Andrea Constand that he had assaulted her at his home, the agency said in a statement.

The district attorney found there was "insufficient credible and admissible evidence" to charge Cosby at the time. Cosby then waived his right to invoke the Fifth Amendment when testifying in a civil case brought by Constand based on the vow never to prosecute him. That case was later settled, according to Ripp Media.

The motion also claims that in July 2015, the judge overseeing Constand’s earlier civil case improperly unsealed extensive portions of Cosby’s confidential testimony. The excerpts were widely misreported by the press and social media, according to the motion, "raising an enormous presumption of guilt in the public’s mind."

More than 50 women have accused Cosby of assaulting or drugging them over a period spanning decades, and he faces more than a dozen civil cases. He has denied all of the claims.

"You just wonder where the truth is," Ripp said of the claims against Cosby. "We were tasked with impacting perception and helping to shape the storyline, but do it with facts and real points. I detest the idea of spin here. All we can do is share what the lawyers have uncovered and what they are arguing."

Ripp Media worked with the Cosby legal defense team’s legal strategy, supporting it with "strong, credible" broad media outreach, according to Ripp. He added that this story spans entertainment press, civil rights, business, and local media in Philadelphia, claiming it is also a "women’s story."

Ripp’s firm reached out to The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Daily Beast, The Hollywood Reporter, and legal press such as The American Lawyer, The National Law Journal, and Law360. Ripp’s media relations strategy was to engage frequently and try not to be too reactive, he said.

Bloggers and social media users pushing a "certain narrative" about Cosby and his cases also presented a challenge, Ripp noted.

"You can’t fight it all, but you can address at the high end where you have facts to support you that there are cases here, witnesses here, and allegation here that need to be looked at closely," said Ripp. "The set of facts the defense wants [the public] to look at have been largely ignored by the enormity of pile on commentators and amateur analysts and social media yahoos."

Ripp contended that the public is sick of hearing about Cosby, which leads to assumptions about guilt and innocence, adding, "We are trying to break that."

The motion is the first of several new pleadings expected in coming weeks challenging both the criminal and civil cases against Cosby.

Ripp collaborated closely with Cosby’s PR representative, Purpose PR founder Andrew Wyatt, who has worked with Cosby for more than six years. Before any allegations were made against the former sitcom star, Wyatt helped him with promotions for his college tours and fundraising events.

Wyatt explained that he is helping to get out the message about the defense team’s motion and give Cosby the right to his due process.

Reflecting on aiding Cosby through his reputation crisis, Wyatt said his firm has been trying many methods to get his story out, but has had to do so in an "unorthodox way."

"We can’t just put messages out because anything we say we could be possibly sued [for]," Wyatt said. "Our statements have to come through the motions our attorneys file. We can’t just ultimately go out there and do interviews and speak freely. So the strategy is not the one we normally would do."

Wyatt said representing Cosby has not prompted any backlash against his firm.

"It is no different than attorneys that represent criminals and murderers," he said. "It doesn’t represent the firms. Our objective is just to do a job. My job is to give it 120%."

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