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Sacha Baron Cohen Smacks Down Defamation Suit, Roy Moore Appeals

A federal judge notes that the former Arkansas judge signed an agreement specifically precluding the claims he tried to bring in court.

MANHATTAN (CN) — After nearly three years of litigation, a federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a $95 million defamation lawsuit against “Borat” actor Sacha Baron Cohen stemming from a televised prank he pulled on Roy Moore. 

During an interview on his satirical Showtime series “Who Is America?” a disguised Cohen demonstrated what he called a pedophile-detection wand, which beeped when it passed over Moore. Accusations that Moore made inappropriate advances against teenage girls while in his 30s have followed the former judge for years, and thwarted his 2017 Senate campaign. 

But as Cohen’s attorneys argued, and persuaded the court today in their motion for summary judgment, Moore’s claims were barred by a waiver clause in the agreement he signed before doing the interview — and by the First Amendment.

Moore has already appealed the decision to the Second Circuit. 

Shortly after Moore lost his 2017 Alabama Senate run to Democrat Doug Jones, he was invited to Washington, D.C., purportedly to receive an award for his support of Israel. The Israeli general with whom Moore sat for an interview, however, was in fact Cohen in disguise

Leading in by discussing anti-terroism technology he said was being used by the Israeli military, Cohen then brought out the wand that he said could detect enzymes that are secreted only by “sex offenders, and particularly pedophiles.” 

The wand would not go off “because neither of us are sex offenders,” Cohen explained — setting up for punchline when the device began to beep as it passed over Moore who, after saying he had been married for 33 years and had “never had an accusation of such things,” quickly ended the interview. 

Moore’s suit was first filed in the District of Columbia and later transferred to Manhattan, where a district judge denied a motion to dismiss it. Reassigned in September of 2020, the case came before U.S. District Judge John P. Judge Cronan. 

Ruling in Cohen’s favor, Cronan first addressed the consent agreement — which involved a now-dissolved entity called Yerushalayim TV — finding it to be enforceable. 

“Not only does the [Standard Consent Agreement] set forth a clear waiver of any claims “related to the Program,” but the contract even enumerates certain waived claims, including the very three pleaded in this case,” wrote Cronan in the 26-page order.

Specifically, the agreement blocked claims of infliction of emotional distress and fraud, like those brought by Moore and with his wife, Kayla Moore, as well as defamation, brought by Roy Moore alone. 

In the consent agreement he signed before being filmed in what turned out to be a prank set by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Roy Moore struck out a line that refers to “allegedly sexual-oriented or offensive behavior or questioning.” (Image via Courthouse News)

“Confronted with these unambiguous waivers of his only causes of action, Judge Moore turns to language he apparently struck through in another provision,” Cronan continued, referring to a section that referenced “allegedly sexual-oriented or offensive behavior or questioning.”

“Judge Moore contends that this alteration somehow modifies the entire SCA to permit him to bring the causes of action alleged in the Complaint. The Court disagrees,” Cronan wrote, noting that the modification does not pertain to the causes of action Moore pleaded. 

Since Kayla Moore was not a party to the agreement, the judge went on to rule her claims barred by the First Amendment. He cited the Supreme Court’s emphasis that liability may not be attached for “statements that cannot ‘reasonably [be] interpreted as stating actual facts’ about an individual.”

“In light of the context of Judge Moore’s interview,” Cronan wrote, “the segment was clearly a joke and no reasonable viewer would have seen it otherwise.” 

After all, the same episode featured the same Cohen character that interviewed Moore, “Gen. Erran Morad,” pitching his idea to lobbyists and politicians for a program called “Kinderguardians” which would give kids as young as 3 years old firearms to defend against school shootings. 

“It is simply inconceivable that the Program’s audience would have found a segment with Judge Moore activating a supposed pedophile-detecting wand to be grounded in any factual basis,” Cronan wrote, dismissing Kayla Moore’s claims as being barred by the First Amendment. 

Moore’s attorney, Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but published his reaction on his own website.

“Judge Cronan's ruling makes no factual and legal sense, and frankly is outrageous and violation [sic] of his judicial oath,” Klayman quoted himself as saying. “He even characterizes what the admitted fraudster Sacha Baron Cohen did, branding my client a pedophile before the entire world, as simply a 'joke.' To the contrary, Judge Cronan's dismissal is the joke, and more than a bad joke at that.”

Klayman’s appeal followed shortly after Cronan’s decision. 

Showtime declined to comment on the ruling.

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