MANHATTAN (CN) — Don’t dismiss Sacha Baron Cohen’s work as that of a merry prankster, his lawyers told a court on Friday, sketching out their plans to use truth as an absolute defense against libel claims from embattled Alabama politico Roy Moore.
One of a long line of public figures fooled by a comedic persona of the chameleon-like Cohen, Moore made an unwitting guest appearance two summers ago in the satirical Showtime series “Who Is America?”
Posing as a counterterrorism expert in the Moore ambush, Cohen showed off what he billed as the latest feat of top-flight Israeli technology, a supposed pedophile detector.
Moore cut the chat short as the device beeped persistently whenever waved around him. A year earlier, sexual misconduct allegations by underaged women derailed the ex-judge’s Senate run.
“I’m not saying you’re a sex offender at all,” Cohen assures Moore in the clip.
Lawyers for the comedian were less diplomatic Friday at a 15-minute teleconference in Moore’s $95 million defamation suit against Cohen, Showtime and CBS.
“If we were to proceed with full discovery … then we would need to be getting discovery on any and all issues and claims here, including substantial truth,” said Elizabeth McNamara, a partner at the firm Davis Wright Tremaine.
“There would need to be full discovery on substantial truth,” McNamara emphasized. “There would need to be full discovery on actual malice.”
Moore, now 73, has been dogged for years that he made inappropriate advances as an assistant district attorney in his 30s against teenage girls in the Cotton State, where the age of consent is 16.
Two accused him of assault or molestation. Moore denies the claims.
“I’ve been married for 33 [years],” a calm but unamused Moore tells the wand-waving Cohen in their 2018 interview. “I’ve never had an accusation of such things. … Certainly I’m not a pedophile, OK.”
U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter, an Obama appointee, set the stage for a broad inquiry of the malice issue by nixing McNamara’s push for a free-speech determination.
Representing both Cohen and the networks that aired his show, McNamara referred to Cohen’s sketch as “protected political satire of an indisputably controversial public figure.”
“To preserve First Amendment freedoms and give reporters, commentators, bloggers, and tweeters (among others) the breathing room they need to pursue the truth, the Supreme Court has directed courts to expeditiously weed out unmeritorious defamation suits,” McNamara’s team wrote in a recent case status report.
But the judge ruled Friday that fairness requires a fuller probe.
Moore’s attorney, hard-right legal gadfly Larry Klayman, vowed today that his team would make themselves “fully available” for the inquiry and “let the truth prevail.”
Klayman said complete discovery is essential as Cohen is “someone who is very talented in his own right, but he is a master of deception.”
After the networks requested an at least six-month inquiry, Judge Carter set a discovery deadline of Feb. 2, 2021.
“Let’s try to wrap up discovery by Groundhog Day then,” the judge said.