Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill Cosby is facing a new sexual assault lawsuit

Victoria Valentino, pictured at her home in Altadena, Calif., in 2014, has filed a civil suit against Bill Cosby, claiming he drugged and raped her in 1969.    (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
By Manuel Roig-Franzia Washington Post

A former Playboy centerfold model who says she was drugged and raped more than five decades ago by Bill Cosby has filed a lawsuit against the entertainer under a new California law that temporarily lifts the statute of limitation on civil sexual-assault cases.

The suit, filed Thursday morning by attorneys for Victoria Valentino in Los Angeles County Superior Court, is the first known use of the law in California against Cosby, opening a new front in a yearslong and multipronged legal battle against the 85-year-old.

Under the law, accusers who allege they were sexually assaulted while they were adults have been granted a one-year window, closing at the end of this year, to seek damages no matter how long ago the alleged crimes took place.

“It’s not about money, it’s about accountability,” Valentino, 80, told the Washington Post in her first interview about the case shortly before the suit was filed. “Rape steals something from you that cannot be repaired or restored.”

Valentino said a New York civil jury decision earlier this month that former president Donald Trump had sexually assaulted the journalist E. Jean Carroll gave her a boost of confidence.

“Her winning her case was affirmation we were doing the right thing,” Valentino said.

In her lawsuit, Valentino said she briefly met Cosby in 1969 while she was an actress and singer. Later, she said, they ran into each other at a Los Angeles restaurant and Cosby came over to say hello after spotting her in tears over the recent drowning death of her 6-year-old son. Later that day he gave her a pill, she said.

“Here! Take this!” she alleges that Cosby told her. “It will make you feel better. It will make us ALL feel better.”

Valentino’s case follows lawsuits filed late last year by six Cosby accusers under a similar law in New York, commonly referred to as a “lookback” provision, that set a one-year window that expired at the end of 2022.

Cosby, who has been accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by at least 60 women, has denied committing sex crimes against anyone.

“In my opinion, these women are not victims of sexual assault, they are victims of greed,” Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt said in an interview after Valentino’s suit was filed.

Wyatt said he believes the string of accusations against Cosby are part of a “formula” used to disparage and discredit successful Black men, including Cosby and R. Kelly, the star musician convicted in 2022 of multiple child pornography and child sex-abuse charges.

“They don’t want this Black man to leave this earth as America’s dad. They don’t want white kids looking up to him as America’s dad and wanting their fathers to be like him,” Wyatt said.

After the New York suits were filed, Wyatt, called the cases “frivolous” and said the entertainer looked forward to defending himself in court. The lawsuits “ARE ALL ABOUT MONEY,” Wyatt’s written statement said. Cosby could not be immediately reached for comment about the Valentino lawsuit.

Cosby’s accusers, many of whom call themselves “sister survivors,” suffered a setback in 2021 when his conviction on charges of drugging and sexually assaulting a former Temple University basketball official was overturned based on a previous non-prosecution agreement related to the same alleged incident. He was released from a Pennsylvania state prison after having served more than two years of a three- to 10-year sentence.

But Cosby’s accusers have won multiple victories in civil suits, which have a lower standard of proof than criminal cases. In June, a California jury found Cosby guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, Judy Huth, at the Playboy Mansion in 1975 and awarded her $500,000. (In California a person can sue for sexual assault that occurred when they were a minor until the age of 40, or within five years of learning about the alleged assault through therapy or other means.) In 2019, seven accusers who argued that Cosby and his legal team smeared them by saying they were not telling the truth about sexual assault allegations, reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount in a lawsuit. Cosby reacted angrily, saying his insurance company, AIG, which provided defamation coverage and legal representation through a provision of his homeowners insurance policy, settled the case without his approval.

Valentino is represented by Jeff Anderson, a prominent Minnesota-based attorney who also represents one of the women who sued Cosby in New York. In California, Anderson also represents a woman who has sued Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler, alleging he had sex with her when she was a teenage minor.

Valentino’s case goes well beyond accusations against Cosby. As part of the same lawsuit, she is also suing between one and 20 unnamed people, including Cosby’s agents, servants and other employees that she alleges enabled Cosby’s alleged assault. She plans to identify those defendants as she learns their names during the course of discovery related to the lawsuit.

Valentino, who lives in Arizona, has been a high-profile Cosby critic since first publicly discussing her rape allegations in a 2014 interview with The Post. She later was a constant courthouse presence in Pennsylvania during a 2017 Cosby criminal trial that ended in a mistrial and during the trial in which he was convicted the next year. Since then, she has become an advocate for loosening sexual-case restrictions, including playing a prominent role in significantly lengthening the statute of limitations in sex crimes cases in California and other states.

While that effort was underway, there was a parallel lobbying campaign to lift restrictions on civil cases. Activists chose to target New York state and California because they have a concentration of four industries with high levels of sex-assault allegations: music, film, fashion and theater.

By the time Valentino says she met Cosby at an acting audition in 1969, she had gained a measure of notoriety for her 1963 centerfold appearance in Playboy, then one of the most popular magazines in the United States. Her accusations are similar to those made by dozens of women: Cosby met them while they were aspiring or rising actresses or models, groomed them as potential sexual-assault victims, then allegedly drugged and raped them.

In Valentino’s case, she says she had a chance encounter with Cosby at a Melrose Avenue hot spot, Café Figaro. Cosby spotted her crying over the death of her son, she says. He offered to pay for her and a friend who was dining with her to take a steam bath at a Finnish spa. He sent a car for them when they finished their treatments and they were whisked to a Sunset Strip steakhouse for dinner, according to the lawsuit. While they ate, Valentino says, Cosby gave both her and her friend pills.

When they finished, Valentino’s suit says, Cosby drove them himself to an office, ostensibly so they could see memorabilia from “I Spy,” the show in which Cosby broke ground as the first African American lead actor in an American television series. While there, Valentino alleges, both she and her friend passed out. Valentino says she awoke and saw Cosby approaching her friend. Fearing he was going to sexually assault the woman, who is not identified in the lawsuit, Valentino says she tried to protect her friend. Cosby became angry, she says, and raped her. The alleged incident is described in graphic detail in the lawsuit.

Afterward, Valentino’s life became a shambles for a time, she said in The Post interview. Traumatized, she dropped a recording contract and retreated to a remote home, only occasionally resurfacing to play bit parts in low-budget films to help pay the rent. (Victoria Valentino should not be confused with a porn actress of the same name.)

She eventually left Los Angeles and moved to New Orleans, where she is something of a cult figure among in-the-known patrons of a French Quarter bar, the Bombay Club, because a topless painting of her hangs in the men’s bathroom.

Eventually, she left New Orleans and moved to the Southwest, becoming a registered nurse and recently writing a memoir. In 2020, at the age of 77, she appeared – fully clothed – in one of the final editions of Playboy, which featured former centerfolds.

It was great fun, she said, but the scars of what she says happened to her in 1969 have remained with her through the decades.

“It impacts everything in your life,” Valentino said in the interview. “It’s like a stone dropped into a still pool and all of those expanding ripples touch shores you could never have imagined.”