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Jury finds neither Roy Moore nor accuser liable for defamation

Both former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and Leigh Corfman, a woman who claims he molested her when she was 14, claimed victory after a jury handed down its verdict Wednesday.

(CN) — A jury has found neither former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore nor one of the women who accused him of decades-old sexual impropriety defamed each other during the explosive 2017 special election for a Senate seat in Alabama.

Capping years of litigation that was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the jury in Montgomery, Alabama, returned its verdict Wednesday morning. The jury found neither Moore nor Leigh Corfman – who claims Moore sexually molested her when she was 14 – were liable for defamation.

Now, both sides claim they have been vindicated.

Corfman’s allegations rocked the special election to fill a vacant Alabama U.S. Senate seat in 2017. Before the allegations were first published in the Washington Post, Moore, a Republican and former state supreme court chief justice, was polling comfortably ahead of his rival, Democrat Doug Jones.

But the allegations by Corfman and a few other women dominated the last few weeks of the race and Jones pulled off a narrow upset.

Corfman filed her lawsuit weeks after the election in December 2017, saying the politician defamed her by calling her a liar.

She said she met Moore, then 32, in a courthouse while she was a high school freshman attending a child custody hearing in the late 1970s. The assistant district attorney allegedly asked for her telephone number, and according to Corfman’s complaint, then later picked her up, drove her to his house, laid down blankets and served the 14-year-old alcohol.

Corfman said in her complaint that Moore took off her outer clothes and touched her over her underwear and “guided her hand to touch his penis.” Her complaint asked the court to order Moore to apologize.

In court filings, Moore blamed his loss of the Senate race on the allegations brought by a handful of women claiming decades-old sexual impropriety.

Moore’s countersuit claiming Corfman defamed him when she spoke to the Post asked her to pay him damages.

One of Moore’s attorneys, Julian McPhillips of the Montgomery firm McPhillips Shinbaum, said the years-long litigation was a David-and-Goliath struggle between Moore and a group of attorneys who looked like they were working with a multimillion-dollar budget, despite claiming to work for Corfman pro bono.

Discovery ranged across the nation, McPhillips said, with depositions taken as far as a couple hours away in the Alabama city of Gadsden to Ohio, California and Florida.

During the trial, Moore’s attorneys presided evidence McPhillips said questioned the veracity of Corfman’s statements, such as her “background and past.”

The countersuit claiming Corfman defamed Moore, his attorney said, was a defensive tactic.

“The whole suit was started by her filing the lawsuit, also by her initiating what Roy Moore said were false and defamatory claims about him engaging in sexual harassment,” McPhillips said.

Ultimately, McPhillips said the jury returned a verdict around 11 a.m. after spending about three hours in deliberation.

Meanwhile, Corfman's attorney Neil Roman of the firm Covington & Burling said because Corfman used truth as an absolute defense, the jury concluded that her account was true. Put another way, Roman said, if the tables were reversed and Moore was the plaintiff bringing the suit, he would have lost.

“Leigh basically wanted to vindicate herself and she got vindication. The jury believed her,” Roman said. Had they not, Moore would have a sizable award given the nature of Corfman’s allegations, he added.

Furthermore, Roman said the jury may have determined Moore’s comments about Corfman’s claims were more akin to denials rather than defamation. While Corfman and her attorneys are disappointed with that portion of the jury’s verdict, they see a larger win.

Roman said he expects the case Moore filed in another county against Corfman and other women who came forward in the 2017 special election will be dismissed on res judicata grounds.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John Rochester presided over the case, instructing the jury that it had to determine whether Corfman or Moore recklessly or knowingly made false statements that damaged each other’s reputation.

Moore has long been a name in the national discourse. He gained national attention in 2003 when he, as Alabama’s chief justice, refused a federal order to move a monument of the Ten Commandments he had placed in the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. For his refusal, he was removed from the bench.

After being elected a second time to the state’s top-judge position, Moore once again was removed from the bench in 2016 because he told Alabama’s probate judges to disregard the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that recognized same-sex marriage.

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