PHILADELPHIA – A judge has declined to issue an order concealing the identities of women who have agreed to testify against entertainer Bill Cosby (search) in a sexual assault civil lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno said in his decision Thursday that "allegations of harm by each of the Jane Doe witnesses are unsubstantiated broad allegations" not sufficient to order their identities kept secret.
The nine women gave various reasons for wishing to remain anonymous, such as fear of worsening a medical condition or losing a job, or the desire to shield relatives such as children or elderly parents. Attorneys also said the exposure would discourage them and others from speaking out in such cases.
"It is essential that the injury to be prevented be shown with specificity," Robreno wrote. He noted, however, that just because the court would not conceal the women's identities, that did not mean the parties had to disclose them.
"Pretrial discovery is ordinarily conducted in private, and its fruits are not made public unless they are filed (or made part of a filing) with the court," he said.
Attorney Ralph Jacobs, who represents one of the women, said he was disappointed by the ruling, but cited the judge's comments that such information is ordinarily not made public. "It's up to Mr. Cosby and his lawyers to decide what they want to do," he said.
One of Cosby's attorneys, Andrew Schau, declined comment.
The women have agreed to testify against Cosby in a civil suit filed against him in March by a former Temple University employee who alleged that he drugged and then fondled her; all contend similar assaults by the comedian. Montgomery County prosecutors declined to file charges in the case.
Attorney Dolores Troiani, who represents the plaintiff, has said that her client has been bombarded by phone calls and unannounced visits to her home, and the other women fear they would be subjected to similar invasions of their privacy.
Attorneys for Cosby, a Temple University alumnus and booster, have said that he considered himself a friend and mentor to the woman. Cosby denied the assault allegation but acknowledged giving her over-the-counter medication after she complained she was stressed and having trouble sleeping.
Cosby, 67, most famous for his role as a father on a long-running television series, has recently sparked debate with blunt remarks on personal responsibility aimed at the black community.