A federal appeals court on Monday rejected Bill Cosby's effort to reseal his deposition testimony about extramarital affairs, prescription sedatives and payments to women, saying the documents are now a matter of public knowledge.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the comedian's appeal was moot.
"The contents of the documents are a matter of public knowledge, and we cannot pretend that we could change that fact by ordering them resealed," the court wrote in an opinion.
Cosby's attorneys hoped a ruling in their favor could help them keep the documents from being used in the criminal case against him in Pennsylvania and in the many lawsuits filed around the country by women who accuse him of sexual assault or defamation.
Cosby gave the testimony in 2005 as part of a lawsuit brought against him by Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee who said he drugged and molested her at his home. She later settled for an undisclosed sum, and sensitive documents in the file remained sealed.
In the nearly 1,000-page deposition, the married comic once known as "America's Dad" for his beloved portrayal of Dr. Cliff Huxtable on his top-ranked 1980s TV show, "The Cosby Show," admitted to several extramarital affairs and said he obtained quaaludes to give to women he hoped to seduce.
The documents were released last year on a request from The Associated Press. U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno found the public had a right to Cosby's testimony because of his role as a self-appointed "public moralist" and because he had denied accusations he drugged and molested women.
In Monday's ruling, the appeals court questioned that "public moralist" rationale in releasing the documents.
Calling the term "vague and undefined," the court said they would have had "serious reservations" about using it as a reason to modify a protective order.
The ruling does not express any view on whether the documents should have been unsealed.
In court papers, his lawyers argued that he had been assured confidentiality and that the "private and embarrassing testimony" would cause serious injury to Cosby, "who relies upon his reputation for his livelihood."
Gayle C. Sproul, a lawyer for the AP, had argued against resealing the documents, saying that Cosby had not only spoken out on issues of marriage and morality but had also profited from them through books, TV shows and advertising.
Cosby's lawyers had said a ruling in their favor would allow him to argue in the other cases against him that the testimony should never have been made public in the first place and should not be admitted as evidence.
The release of the deposition led prosecutors in suburban Philadelphia to revisit Constand's 2005 police complaint and charge Cosby in December with felony sexual assault.
Cosby, 79, insists his sexual encounter with Constand in 2004 was consensual. He remains free on $1 million bail, and no trial date has been set.