After two days of deliberations in which they reached verdicts on nearly all of the questions put before them, jurors in a civil trial who were deciding on sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby will have to start from scratch on Monday.
By the end of the court day Friday, the Los Angeles County jury had come to agreement on whether Cosby had sexually assaulted plaintiff Judy Huth at the Playboy Mansion when she was 16 in 1975, and whether Huth deserved any damages. In all they had answered eight of nine questions on their verdict form, all but one that asked whether Cosby acted in a way that should require punitive damages.
Judge Craig Karlan, who had promised one juror when she agreed to serve that she could leave after Friday for a prior commitment, decided over the objections of Cosby’s attorneys to accept and read the verdict on the questions the jury had answered. But he had to change course when deputies at the Santa Monica Courthouse appeared and required him to clear the courtroom. The courthouse has a required closure time of 4.30pm because of no budget for deputies’ overtime
Karlan refused to require the departing juror, who had been chosen as foreperson, to return on Monday, so jurors will have to begin again with an alternate in her place.
“I won’t go back on my word,” Karlan said.
It was a bizarre ending to a strange day of jury deliberations. It began with a note to the judge about what he called a “personality issue” between two of the jurors that was making their work difficult.
After calling them to the courtroom and getting them to agree that every juror would be heard in discussions, the jurors resumed, but had a steady flurry of questions on issues with their verdict form that the judge and attorneys had to discuss and answer. One question was on how to calculate damages.
After the lunch break, Cosby lawyer Jennifer Bonjean moved for a mistrial because of a photo taken by a member of Cosby’s team that showed a juror standing in close proximity to a Cosby accuser who had been sitting in the audience and watching the trial.
Karlan said the photo didn’t indicate any conversation had happened, and quickly dismissed the mistrial motion, getting assurances from the juror in question, then the entire jury, that no one had discussed the case with them.
The accuser, Los Angeles artist Lily Bernard, who has filed her own lawsuit against Cosby in New Jersey, denied speaking to any jurors.
“I never spoke to any juror, ever,” Bernard told the judge from her seat in the courtroom. “I would never do anything to jeopardise this case. I don’t even look at them.”
Karlan fought to get past the hurdles and have jurors deliberate as long as possible, and kept lawyers, reporters and court staff in the courtroom ready to bolt as soon as a verdict was read, but it was fruitless in the end.
Jurors had begun deliberating on Thursday morning after a two-week trial.
Cosby, 84, who was freed from prison when his Pennsylvania criminal conviction was thrown out nearly a year ago, did not attend. He denied any sexual contact with Huth in a clip from a 2015 video deposition shown to jurors. The denial has been repeated throughout the trial by his spokesman and his attorney.
In contentious closing arguments, Bonjean urged the jurors to look past the public allegations against Cosby and consider only the trial evidence, which she said did not come close to proving Huth’s case.
Huth’s attorney Nathan Goldberg told jurors Cosby had to be held accountable for the harm he had done to his client.
The Associated Press does not normally name people who say they have been sexually abused, unless they come forward publicly, as Huth and Bernard each have.