Why is Camille Cosby not protected by spousal privilege?

The wife of Bill Cosby will be forced to take the stand in a deposition Monday related to the civil defamation suit surrounding the comedian's denials of his alleged sex crimes.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File
Comedian Bill Cosby enters the Kennedy Center in Washington with his wife Camille in 2009.

The wife of comedian Bill Cosby must testify Monday in Massachusetts as part of a defamation lawsuit brought against her husband.

Camille Cosby, who has been married to Mr. Cosby for more than 50 years, was denied a request to delay her deposition by US District Judge Mark Mastroianni late Sunday night even after a different judge ruled Friday that the deposition would not be pushed back. Her lawyers filed a motion Saturday requesting a delay, but the appeal was rejected.

Mrs. Cosby must now answer questions under oath regarding her husband’s activities for the first time since allegations of his past sexual misconduct resulted in a criminal indictment in December.

Her lawyers said that she “has had no involvement with the facts or allegations underlying this case,” and that forcing her to testify would serve “no purpose other than to harass and embarrass her,” according to the Associated Press.

But NBC News reports Camille Cosby should have answers, as Cosby's business manager, to key questions. It quotes the lawyer taking Monday's deposition, Joe Cammarata:

"Did he sleep around? What were his relationships? Did he make payments of money to other women?" Cammarata asked, previewing his line of questioning in a telephone interview.

Cammarata said Camille Cosby's truthful answers to those questions could support his clients' claims, regardless of whether she is sympathetic to her husband.

Cosby, 78, has been embroiled in legal issues over accusations from dozens of women of sexual assault, with many alleging he used alcohol and drugs to manipulate them. Some 50 women have said Cosby assaulted them, but the statute of limitations had expired for almost all of the women’s cases by the time their accusations were made public.

Cosby, best known for his stand-up comedy and his starring role on NBC's "The Cosby Show," was formally indicted last year in a criminal case surrounding the alleged sexual assault of a woman in 2005. Cosby unsuccessfully appealed to dismiss those charges, as well.

The defamation suit connected to the Monday deposition was brought against Cosby in late 2014 by Tamara Green, who was later joined by seven more co-plaintiffs. None of the women could sue Cosby criminally due to the amount of elapsed time. But their civil suit contends that Cosby’s repeated denials of their assault and abuse allegations resulted in their defamation, as he called them all liars.

The lawyers representing Green and the other women slammed the Cosby motion to delay the deposition in a court filing, saying “The Cosbys' last-minute filing is the latest in a series of increasingly brazen attempts to interfere with the deposition of Mrs. Cosby,” adding that “The Cosbys should not be allowed to indefinitely delay Mrs. Cosby's deposition by repeatedly filing what is in substance the same motion, over and over again.”

The attorneys also used her position as her husband’s business manager to argue for her to appear at the deposition, saying she may have seen something in that role that could affirm or refute the claims of sexual misconduct.

While Judge Mastroianni ruled earlier in February that Camille Cosby would not have to discuss private conversations she had with her husband, other information regarding his activities would be the focus of the deposition. The compelling of a spouse to potentially provide evidence or information against her husband has some concerned with the precedent such a move could set for spousal testimonial privilege in court, although Massachusetts law does not provide this protection in civil disputes.

Evan Slavitt, a former assistant US attorney, wrote in a Boston Herald article that the order compelling Mrs. Cosby’s participation in the deposition is “a colossal waste of time and money,” calling it “fundamentally wrong.”

“All she could possibly know is what her husband of five decades said to her,” Slavitt wrote. “That is precisely what the privilege protects.”

“As a precedent, it is an attack on the institution of marriage that could have far-reaching consequences,” he added.

The separate criminal case against Bill Cosby is set to begin with a preliminary hearing on March 8.

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