Roy Moore, in Senate Run, Seeks Dismissal of Defamation Lawsuit

Roy Moore. (AP file photo/Brynn Anderson)

(CN) — Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore’s second campaign for U.S. Senate was a mere 12 days old when his attorneys asked a state judge to put to rest a lawsuit that arose from lurid accusations that caused his first campaign to crumple in the final weeks of the 2017 race. On Monday he will ask an Alabama state judge to dismiss a defamation lawsuit from a woman who said he molested her when she was 14.

In the weeks before the Dec. 12, 2017 special election, nine women accused Moore of sexual misconduct. Leigh Corfman told The Washington Post Moore sexually abused her in 1979 when he was 32 and an assistant district attorney, and she 14.

Moore denied the allegations, calling a politically motivated attack, and in early 2018 Corfman filed a defamation suit against him.

As Moore again seeks elected office, both sides are to argue their points at a hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse Monday afternoon. Moore filed motions for summary judgment and dismissal on July 1 this year, and Corfman’s attorneys opposed both motions last week, saying that there are factual questions that cannot be resolved by summary judgment.

“Mr. Moore’s accusation that Ms. Corfman’s disclosure of her sexual abuse was politically motivated as part of a liberal conspiracy implies facts about, among other things, Ms. Corfman’s political beliefs and connections with other conspirators,” Corfman’s 54-page response states. “Ultimately, such factual questions are properly addressed to a jury.”

Before the hearing, both sides dumped a trove of deposition excerpts, affidavits and newspaper clippings into the court record, with details of the closely covered accounts that caused Moore to fall from an 11-point lead to a 1.5 point loss in the race to replace the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general, before he was replaced with Attorney General William Barr.

In the fallout, Democrat Doug Jones won the seat after Republicans, including as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Moore should drop out of the race if Corfman’s account was true. For its work publishing Corfman’s account, The Washington Post won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Moore first gained national recognition in 2001 for refusing to take down a monument to the Ten Commandments he erected in the Alabama Judicial Building when he was chief justice of the state supreme court. He was re-elected chief justice in 2012, then removed again in 2016 after he ordered Alabama judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, and for other ethical violations.

(This month the nonprofit organization Moore founded, the Foundation for Moral Law, submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to gender identity and sexual orientation protections in the workplace.)

Moore’s war chest today in his campaign for Senate lags far behind those of his two rivals. Jones reported that his campaign had $4.3 million cash on hand in the quarterly report due July 15. Republican Congressman Bradley Byrne, also seeking the Senate seat, said his campaign had $2.4 million. Moore had amassed a mere $16,000.

In his brief seeking summary judgment in Corfman’s defamation suit, Moore’s attorney Melissa Isaak — who calls her Montgomery firm “divorce attorneys for men” — said the 16 allegedly defamatory comments Moore made during the campaign about Corfman were in self-defense, a response to Corfman’s comments to the news media.

“Corfman certainly is not entitled to destroy someone’s reputation and at the same time enjoin the target of her accusations from denying her allegations. … Because a person may not be forbidden from defending his name at the hazard of being sued for calling his defamer a liar, the law provides as qualified privilege of self-defense,” according to the 35-page brief for summary judgment.

The brief also asks the court to refrain from awarding Corfman’s request for an apology from Moore. It compares the request for an apology to U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam being coerced to apologize for American imperialism.

“Such mandated speech is essentially worthless as an act of contrition and serves only as a propaganda victory for the prevailing party in the humiliation of its adversary,” the brief states.

In the second brief, seeking dismissal, Moore claims that because Corfman “injected herself into that [Senate campaign] debate,” she was a limited-purpose public figure. As such, she needs to clear a higher bar to allege defamation: She must show that comments made by the Moore campaign were made with malice — i.e., bruited about while knowing they were untrue.

“[I]if the [Moore Campaign] Committee was responsible for the alleged statements, they are nonactionable as protected opinion, truthful statements, or rhetorical hyperbole,” the brief states.

Exhibits Moore submitted include emails showing Corfman twice signed petitions calling for Moore’s impeachment when he was chief justice.

“Her stated desire to disparage his character is thus inseparable from her determination to thwart his political career,” the brief states. “She deliberately, consciously, and purposely sought his defeat.”

Attorney Isaak did not reply to a request for comment.

But in their combined opposition motion on Thursday, Corfman’s attorneys at Covington & Burling said Moore was trotting out arguments the court rejected in March when it denied his previous motion to dismiss.

“At bottom, nothing of material importance has changed since the Court denied Defendant’s Renewed Motion to Dismiss on March 10, 2019,” according to Corfman’s 54-page opposition brief. “The dispute regarding the truth of Defendants’ defamatory statements about Ms. Corfman’s accounts of her sexual abuse by Mr. Moore as a 14-year-old high school freshman remains.”

Moore’s argument that he was standing his ground and giving a verbal defense is an argument never recognized in an Alabama court, Corfman’s brief adds.

Corfman’s attorneys attached more than three dozen exhibits with details of the allegations against Moore. For instance, Moore said during a deposition that he knew two of the women — teenagers at the time — who made accusations against him. Moore said he “will not deny” that he went to a restaurant with Debbie Wesson Gibson and he remembered eating at a restaurant with Gloria Thacker Deason.

Moore said he did not know how many people he dated from 1977 to 1982, but offered the range of five or eight. Corfman’s attorney Neil Roman asked Moore if he dated anyone younger than 19.

“They may have considered it a date and I didn’t,” Moore said during deposition. “I mean, you know, girls sometimes are more impressionable or something than older people and they have been infatuated, they might have considered it a date. I did not consider it a date. They were friends.”

According to Corfman’s brief, Moore’s campaign was filled with longtime supporters who based their statements about Corfman’s account on Moore’s denial of the events. Furthermore, several people involved with the campaign said in depositions that the stakes were high: Moore could become a senator voting to confirm a Supreme Court justice who might overturn Roe v. Wade.

Corfman’s attorneys attached two affidavits from women who knew Corfman when they were teenagers and a deposition of a man who spoke to her a year or two later.

In the original Washington Post article, one of Corfman’s friends went on the record, gave her name, and said Corfman told her about the incident when they were teenagers.

Betsy Rutenberg Davis, who spoke to the Washington Post, signed an affidavit describing what Corfman told her when they were both 14 years old. According to the 3-page Exhibit C: “Ms. Corfman told me that she snuck out of her house to meet Roy Moore. I knew that Mr. Moore was a lot older than Ms. Corfman. Ms. Corfman said that Mr. Moore drove her to his house, made a pallet on the floor with blankets or the like, left the room, and then reentered the room wearing nothing but his ‘tighty whiteys’ — white jockey underwear. Ms. Corfman also told me that Mr. Moore took off her clothes, touched her body, and guided her to touch his private parts as if he was teaching her what to do. Ms. Corfman said she told him to stop.”

Cynthia Tabb said in an affidavit that when they were both “young teenagers,” Corfman asked her advice when she “met with a man who was much older than her.”

Before The Washington Post story hit the newsstands in November 2017, Corfman called an attorney for advice. According to Kenneth Sexton Jr.’s deposition, Exhibit E, he thought Corfman did not want to do the article because she never gone public about the alleged incident, though they had talked about it once decades before.

When Corfman was 15 or 16, she told him about the incident because he and Corfman had had similar experiences. He said an older woman made advances to him when he was 14 or 15, which he “didn’t necessarily reject.”

“I didn’t think of it as abuse or anything back then,” Sexton said in his deposition, “but I probably do now, because I think all of that damages your psyche and the way you look at relationships.”

Asked specifically what Corfman had told him, Sexton replied: “She didn’t tell me they had sex or anything like that. I mean, what she said was, is that, just generally, that he was groping her and — you know, and that she was uncomfortable and freaked out about it,” according to the deposition.

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