For years, Bill Cosby's reputation as an upstanding family man made accusations of sexual assault seem unbelievable to fans around the world.
It was also one of the reasons a federal judge on Monday unsealed portions of a 2005 deposition in which the entertainer admitted to obtaining sedatives to drug women he had sex with. The documents, which were part of a civil case brought by Andrea Constand that was privately settled, were unsealed at the request of the Associated Press.
"The stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct, is a matter as to which the AP — and by extension the public — has a significant interest," Judge Eduardo C. Robreno wrote on Monday.
Attorneys for Cosby argued the deposition dealt with his sex life, money, marriage, medical conditions, and use of prescription drugs — the most private areas of a person's life. Release of the document would embarrass Cosby, as well as the women who testified against him, attorney George Gowen said.
"This case did not concern a public official, a public company, or other matters of legitimate public concern," Gowen wrote in a court filing. "Rather, it was a private dispute between two individuals over their personal relationship."
The judge acknowledged that celebrities retain privacy rights over their personal lives. But Cosby, he continued, is more than an actor or comedian.
"This case, however, is not about [Cosby's] status as a public person by virtue of the exercise of his trade as a televised or comedic personality. Rather, [Cosby] has donned the mantle of public moralist and mounted the proverbial electronic or print soap box to volunteer his views on, among other things, childrearing, family life, education, and crime."
Robreno added that Cosby freely entered the sphere of public affairs: "He has voluntarily narrowed the zone of privacy that he is entitled to claim."
AP first sought the document shortly after it was filed, but the court ruled to temporarily seal it. A second request to unseal the documents was made in December 2014, after more women came forward with accusations that they had been drugged and assaulted by Cosby. Three went on to file defamation claims after the comedian made statements questioning their motives and discrediting their accusations.
Cosby's attorney said the 2005 deposition should remain sealed to protect the ongoing cases, as well as to protect Cosby from a "firestorm of publicity." But the judge disagreed that Cosby, a highly educated and successful performer, needed such protection, given his previous statements against his accusers.
"By joining the debate about the merits of the allegations against him, he has further diminished his entitlement to a claim of privacy," Robreno said.