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Overturned Cosby conviction 'far from an exoneration' with $400M empire at stake

Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction was overturned on Wednesday by Pennsylvania's highest court, the latest development in the sudden downfall of one of television's most beloved icons.

The court reversed his sentence after finding that an agreement the 83-year-old had with with the prosecution violated his Constitutional right against self-incrimination. Meanwhile, experts say the actor and comedian is still able to profit from the 2 ratings juggernauts he created in the 1980s.

The decision "focused on elements of fairness and due process," Sean Andrade, LA-based litigation attorney at Andrade Gonzalez, explained about the case. He added that Cosby gave sworn testimony in which he made "incriminating statements" — all under the agreement that he would not be further prosecuted.

"The Fifth Amendment, and the ability to not testify against yourself criminally is a very important right in our system," Andrade said, adding that the decision "makes very clear that people have to be careful when using the media and the public" and that prosectors "have to be much more careful with the broad authority that they do have."

Although Cosby is now a free man, he is not entirely untouchable, the lawyer added.

"This Supreme Court decision is far from an exoneration," Andrade said, adding that it's entirely possible for Cosby to face other civil or criminal lawsuits from victims moving forward.

Bill Cosby departs the Montgomery County Courthouse after a preliminary hearing in Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 24, 2016.  REUTERS/Matt Rourke/POOL  TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Bill Cosby departs the Montgomery County Courthouse after a preliminary hearing in Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S. May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Matt Rourke/POOL TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Cosby served two years out of a possible 10 year sentence, vowing to serve the full term rather than admit any remorse for the alleged encounter.

The comedian was sentenced in 2018 for drugging and molesting Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia estate in 2004. However, the conviction was amplified by a media firestorm, focused on accusations that Cosby had drugged and assaulted dozens of women over a span of decades.

He was ultimately charged in 2015 when a district attorney, armed with Cosby's newly unsealed deposition from Constand's 2005 lawsuit, arrested him just days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.

Two criminal trials followed after the first ended in a hung jury.

Financial ripple effect

'The Cosby Show' (Courtesy: NBC)
'The Cosby Show' (Courtesy: NBC)

Cosby's net worth sits at an estimated $400 million, with the bulk of his income resulting from his hit sitcoms "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World."

Despite his now overturned conviction, Cosby is still eligible to receive royalty payments from the shows, according to Devin McRae, an LA-based entertainment & business litigator at Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae.

The attorney explained that the comedian's contract is most likely structured so that "he would get the royalties if the show was sold or broadcast, because those royalty rights are already vested."

"You typically wouldn't have a forfeiture like that based on any morals clause," McRae added. Although a morals clause would allow the studio to cancel the contract, it would not be able to forfeit any vested rights.

"If [the studio] wants to prevent him from profiting, they would simply not sell the show and just shelve it," he said.

The majority of networks have done just that — with many pulling "Cosby Show" re-runs from the airwaves in the wake of his conviction. That created a financial ripple effect for the entire cast.

Former star Geoffrey Owens, who played Elvin Tibideaux on the now-tainted series, revealed how he had to take a job at Trader Joe's, in part, due to the scandal.

"Yes, it impacted me financially," Owens previously told "People Magazine" back in 2018. "At the time that the show was pulled, that did make a difference in our income."

He added: "That was one of the elements that led to my getting to the place where I said to myself, ‘I have to do something,’ and I was thinking, ‘What can I do?’ and the answer ended up being Trader Joe’s, which is actually a wonderful situation for me in many ways. But I got to the point — I just had to do something to support myself and my family," he said at the time.

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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