Sacha Baron Cohen Ordered to Sit for Limited Interview in Suit by Judge He Pranked

This screenshot shows former Alabama judge Roy Moore in a 2018 interview that turned out to be a comedic ambush for the Showtime series “Who Is America?” Disguised at right as an Israeli counterterrorism expert, Sacha Baron Cohen demonstrates a gadget that he says will beep when waved at a pedophile. (Image courtesy of Showtime via Courthouse News)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Over two years after he embarrassed Roy Moore in a prank interview featuring a purported pedophile-detection wand, Sacha Baron Cohen will have to sit for an hour of questioning in the former Alabama judge’s defamation case.

Moore seeks $95 million in damages after making an unwitting guest appearance on Cohen’s satirical Showtime series “Who Is America?”  

Donning one of his trademark disguises in the ambush, Cohen posed as a counterterrorism expert to interview Moore, the former judge who saw his 2017 Senate run derailed by sexual misconduct allegations involving underage girls.

In the 2018 interview, the English Cohen shows off what he billed as the latest feat of top-flight Israeli technology, a supposed pedophile detector that beeped persistently whenever waved around Moore.  “I’m not saying you’re a sex offender at all,” Cohen assures Moore in the clip. 

Cohen’s attorney says that the standard consent agreement Moore signed with a since-dissolved company called Yerushalayim TV precludes Moore from bringing any legal claims.

Represented by the hard-right gadfly Larry Klayman, however, Moore seeks to grill Cohen about his knowledge of that contract’s enforceability.

Klayman said Friday that he has been “stonewalled” so far in case discovery.

During a one-hour teleconference Friday, U.S. District Judge John Cronan ruled that Cohen must sit for one hour only, and only face questions about the enforceability of the Yerushalayim TV consent agreement as it pertains to the comedian’s motion for summary judgment. 

The Trump-appointed federal judge warned Klayman directly that he would immediately shut down the questioning if he treads past that explicitly narrow scope of the deposition. 

Cohen’s deposition “will not be an opportunity to harass or annoy the witness or place an undue burden on the defendants,” Cronan said. “That is inappropriate, not because of Mr. Cohen’s celebrity status, but that is an inappropriate use of discovery and runs afoul of my order as to the scope of the limited discovery.

The Freedom Watch attorney wrote in a letter to the court Monday that, “in common and colloquial vernacular, [Cohen] is the ‘main man’ and is the most knowledgeable about his own fraudulently crafted scheme, which included a phony fantom and corporation, such as Yerushalayim TV, which is now conveniently and predictably dissolved for failure to make corporate filings and adhering to corporate formalities.”

“This scheme is a ‘trademark’ of defendant Cohen, the master of deception who concocts them to boost his career and enhance his considerable wealth,” the Boca Raton-based attorney added.  

During Friday’s hearing, Klayman briefly accused the presiding judge of treating Moore unfairly. 

“I have the impression of you’re being overly protective of Mr. Cohen and these very large corporate interests and that’s simply not appropriate,” Klayman said.  

Judge Cronan responded that Klayman’s characterization was “as offensive as it is inaccurate.” 

Cohen’s counsel Elizabeth McNamara, from Davis Wright Tremaine, urged the court to bar Klayman from opening deposition of Cohen up to questions about “subjective intent” in forming Yerushalayim TV. 

“Mr. Klayman really wants to have the opportunity depose Mr. Cohen concerning what he calls ‘this fraudulent scheme,’ and on these motions that is simply not an area of inquiry,” McNamara said at Friday’s hearing.  

Cohen’s attorneys say that Cohen has scant applicable knowledge of Yerushalayim TV as it relates the narrow scope prescribed at this stage and offered to make producer Todd Schulman available to better answer inquiries about the formation of Yerushalayim TV and its corporate relationships. 

The deadline to conduct the limited discovery is Jan. 16, 2021. 

Moore, joined in the three-count suit by his wife, Kayla Moore, claimed the actor caused both of them “severe emotional distress,” as well as “severe financial damage” presently and in the future.  

The now-73-year-old judge 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. 

His case was moved from Washington to the Southern District of New York in May 2019. 

The Moores’ complaint survived Cohen’s motion to dismiss before U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter, an Obama-appointed judge who presided over the case in New York until September this year, when it was reassigned to Judge Cronan. 

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