Massachusetts - A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments in a defamation lawsuit filed by three women who allege Bill Cosby sexually assaulted them decades ago.
The hearing, in US District Court in Worcester, represents the first in the suit, which applies solely to the defamation allegation and not for any of assault allegations. It was originally filed in December.
Tamara Green, Therese Serignese and Linda Traitz say Cosby's representatives publicly branded them liars while trying to defend him as they publicly stepped forward with their accusations in recent years.
Cosby's lawyers argue the comedian and actor, who has denied any sexual misconduct, was merely acting in self-defenCe because his character was under attack.
The women are among dozens who have stepped forward in recent years to level various assault accusations against Cosby, who hasn't been charged with any crime.
Green, a California lawyer, says Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in her Los Angeles-area apartment in the early 1970s. Serignese, a Florida nurse, says Cosby drugged and raped her in a dressing room after a show in Las Vegas around 1976. And Traitz alleges he tried to drug her and then groped her on a Southern California beach in about 1970.
The Associated Press generally does not publish the names of people alleging sexual assault but Green, Serignese and Traitz have publicly discussed the allegations.
Thursday's hearing is expected to focus on a request to subpoena records from the lawyers for Andrea Constand, the first woman to formally step forward and file a lawsuit against Cosby for alleged sexual transgressions.
Lawyers representing the three women with the most recent suit want documents related to their clients, but Cosby's lawyers say the request is unnecessary and improper and should be denied.
Constand, a former director of operations for the Temple University women's basketball programme, accused Cosby of drugging and groping her in 2004. She filed a suit the following year, but dropped it in 2006 after the two sides reached an undisclosed settlement.
Thursday's hearing is the first in a series of court dates in Green, Serignese and Traitz's case.
A 9 June hearing in Springfield federal court will focus on Cosby's lawyers' motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The three women seek unspecified monetary damages.
Representatives for Cosby did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cosby starred as Dr Cliff Huxtable on the beloved sitcom The Cosby Show from 1984 to 1992. He has a home in western Massachusetts.
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