By Laila Kearney
(Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge on Thursday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by a Pennsylvania woman against Bill Cosby, which contended the comedian smeared her character when he accused her of lying in claiming he had sexually assaulted her in the 1980s.
Renita Hill, 48, had claimed she was defamed her when the comedian and his representatives called her a liar and extortionist as he defended himself after she went public in 2014 with allegations of decades-old sexual misconduct.
Hill, a Pittsburgh resident, sued in October over three comments made by Cosby and his representatives. The three statements in question "do not support a claim for defamation as defined by Pennsylvania law," U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said in his dismissal ruling, court documents showed.
Hill's attorneys have said Cosby mentored her when she was a young woman, and paid for her education at Temple University and Spelman College. They said he also arranged meetings in Atlantic City, New York and Denver, where he sexually assaulted her.
Hill's first public accusation of sexual assault came in a 2014 interview with a Pittsburgh TV station. Her lawsuit concerned statements Cosby and his representatives made in response to that interview.
Schwab said the remarks were protected under free speech rights, and that Hill did not prove the comments harmed her.
More than 50 women have come forward to accuse Cosby, 78, of sexual assault. The allegations date back as far as the 1960s, making most of them too old for criminal prosecution. Hill and several other women have sued Cosby.
Cosby's attorneys welcomed the judge's decision in a statement and said they hoped it would influence the outcome of other pending lawsuits.
"The Court found opinionated speech by a defendant's attorney is protected and not actionable as defamatory," the attorneys said. "It is our hope that courts in other jurisdictions with similar matters will respond in like manner."
The drumbeat of accusations has toppled Cosby from his cultural status as one of America's most-admired comedians.
He built his career on family-friendly humor and was best known as the loving but often befuddled father in the 1980s television hit, "The Cosby Show."
The only criminal charges against Cosby were filed last month, over the alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004.
Cosby, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, is free on $1 million bail. His lawyer has said he is not guilty and will not consider a plea bargain.
(Editing by Scott Malone, Frances Kerry and David Gregorio)