Unthical Quote of the Week: Bill Cosby Attorney Martin Singer

lying-lawyers“The new, never-before-heard claims from women who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40 or even 50 years ago have escalated past the point of absurdity.These brand new claims about alleged decades-old events are becoming increasingly ridiculous, and it is completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years.  Lawsuits are filed against people in the public eye every day. There has never been a shortage of lawyers willing to represent people with claims against rich, powerful men, so it makes no sense that not one of these new women who just came forward for the first time now ever asserted a legal claim back at the time they alleged they had been sexually assaulted. This situation is an unprecedented example of the media’s breakneck rush to run stories without any corroboration or adherence to traditional journalistic standards. Over and over again, we have refuted these new unsubstantiated stories with documentary evidence, only to have a new uncorroborated story crop up out of the woodwork. When will it end?

—-Martin Singer, one of comedian Bill Cosby’s lawyers, trying to quell the public relations storm that threatens to blow the 77-year-old icon’s career and reputation apart.


I advise lawyers not to make sweeping, emphatic statements like this, for several reasons. First, it comes very close to violating the ethical prohibition against dishonesty, misrepresentation, fraud and deceit. If the lawyer wants to say such words on behalf of his client, that’s one thing, and legitimate representation, though I would prefer to see such statements come from a publicist. For Singer to say something like this on his own behalf, however, harms all of his other clients by scarring his credibility. I don’t believe him, and when it becomes indisputable that Cosby is guilty and that his lawyers had to know, no one will be able to believe him again. Lawyers are supposed to tell the truth, and to represent even the most despicable clients without behaving unethically themselves, within the standards of the profession. That can be difficult, as in this instance. That is why lawyers get the big bucks, however. They should be able to walk that tightrope.

Singer falls right off:

1. There is nothing “fantastical” about 16 women telling essentially the same story.

2. All sexual assault accusations are “unsubstantiated” when only the assaulter and his victim are present, unless there is forensic evidence. Since all of the women say they were afraid to pursue the matter legally at the time of the assault because of Cosby’s reputation and resources—hardly an absurd explanation—that only the victims’ allegations remain does not render them inherently incredible.

3. “…it is completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years” comes perilously close to being an outright lie.  Beth Ferrier is one of the latest women to come forward this month: she was Jane Doe #5 in Andrea Constand’s 2006 civil suit against Cosby, one of 13 alleged Cosby rape victims prepared to testify in support of Constand’s suit. Cosby paid off Constant an undisclosed amount to keep her quiet, just like the Kennedys paid off the family of Mary Jo Kopechne to save Ted Kennedy’s political career, just like Michael Jackson paid off the parents of some of the children he molested, just like Bill Clinton’s staff tamped down the many “bimbo eruptions” that threatened his political fortunes. Since he is talking about only the women who have gone public with their stories recently, he can claim that “so many people” excludes the one victim who did file a complaint, and because the law suit never went to trial, it is true that the others “said nothing,” but this is just well crafted deceit. He also knows why the victims haven’t come forward, and that there was nothing illogical about it.

4. What documentary evidence? What refutation? Cosby paid off one accuser, and refuses to deny the allegations of the rest, absurdly calling them “innuendos.” The lawyer can avoid a disciplinary verdict of lying his face off by saying “Oh, you don’t think that was documentary evidence? Funny, I do. Well, reasonable men can disagree, but even if I am wrong, it’s not lying.” Yecchhh. The statement is made explicitly to deceive the readers unfamiliar with the matter, who will then tell their friends, “No, you are wrong. Bill is innocent. He’s disproved those accusation with documentary evidence.” He has not.

If the only way a lawyer can represent his client zealously is to actively endorse and abet the client’s lies, then the lawyer should withdraw from the representation. It should not be a lawyer’s duty to play publicity flack, or to add his or her professional credibility to a client’s desire to deceive the public. The result of playing this role inevitably results in statements like the one above, which in the end help no one, and degrade trust in the legal profession.



6 thoughts on “Unthical Quote of the Week: Bill Cosby Attorney Martin Singer

  1. Documentary Evidence- perhaps Cosby’s attorney has some non- released photos of Cosby not sexually assaulting women. That would be some pretty powerful evidence there.

  2. My warning went off when his speech slid into the “There has never been a shortage of lawyers willing to represent people with claims against rich, powerful men.” If there had been no shortage of lawyers for these claims, these things would have come to light LONG ago. We’re not arguing ambulance chasing or palimony, but people who could not make their claims because of the power differential. Mr Singer was trying to slide the talk from the claims to greedy lawyers.

    I don’t think it will work this time because Mr Cosby can’t go to jail for old crimes, what his victims would have liked when it happened. Fighting weaselly like this will make people more bitterly angry that he hasn’t lived up to the advice he’s been giving about responsibility.

    • “There has never been a shortage of lawyers willing to represent people with claims against rich, powerful men.”

      This made me remember the case of Coleman Young, former Detroit mayor. He got one of the city workers pregnant and when she wanted child support, he fired her. She had to flee to California. It took her over a decade to find an attorney who had a license to practice law in Michigan who was willing to sue him. The record is now whitewashed and his son took over his (full) name and political career.

  3. Practical ethics question. How should an ethical person deal with “smoke but no fire” charges of misconduct in their own community and organizations? How do can we fairly address the charges without descending into a witch hunt or turning a blind eye and letting our communities fall into the Penn State, BBC, Catholic Church error?

    It also seems like wealth and power is major complicating factor. The wealthy and powerful have the resources to get away with this behavior but their resources can also attract opportunistic accusations. The “smoke but no fire” accusations against X-Men director Bryan Singer might be an interesting test case to explore.

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