A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice and former U.S. Senate Candidate Roy Moore and his wife Kayla Moore against perennial high-profile cinematic troll Sacha Baron Cohen.
The Moores sued Cohen for defamation and other alleged torts after Cohen tricked the conservative patriarch into sitting for an interview for a fake Israeli television show. The pretense was that Moore would be presented with an award for supporting Israel. Instead, according to Moore, Cohen “falsely painted, portrayed, mocked and with malice defamed [him] as a sex offender, which he is not.”
During his senate campaign, Moore had been accused of what Judge John P. Cronan — a Donald Trump appointee to the bench in the Southern District of New York — called “inappropriate sexual encounters with young females, including one who was underage” when the alleged contact occurred. Moore denied all of the accusations, but Cohen used them as grounds to skewer Moore nonetheless.
Part of the interview featured what Cohen claimed was an Israeli device which would identify sex offenders (and, specifically, pedophiles). The fake yet comedic device triggered a ‘warning’ in Moore’s presence — which prompted Cohen to remark that the device “must be faulty.”
Judge Cronan jettisoned the litigation with a one-two punch: first, he said Roy Moore’s claims were barred by a waiver Moore himself signed before sitting for the interview; second, he said Kayla Moore’s claims were barred by the First Amendment.
Moore signed a waiver before the recording session commenced. It said Moore promised to forego all claims “related to the Program.” It also said Moore promised to refrain from specific types of claims, including “infliction of emotional distress (whether allegedly intentional or negligent), “defamation (such as any allegedly false statements made in the Program),” and “fraud (such as any alleged deception about the Program or this consent agreement).”
The judge found the agreement to be enforceable — and made sure to emphasize that Moore explicitly signed a waiver which contained a clause suggesting there was “deception about the Program” and its true nature was afoot.
The First Amendment
The judge ruled that the First Amendment blocked Kayla Moore’s claims, specifically because nothing Cohen said during the broadcast could be reasonably interpreted as statements of facts. Rather, Cohen’s broadcast was satire, pure and simple, Judge Cronan ruled.
“In light of the context of Judge Moore’s interview, the segment was clearly a joke and no reasonable viewer would have seen it otherwise,” Cronan ruled.
“Given the satirical nature of that segment and the context in which it was presented, no reasonable viewer would have interpreted Cohen’s conduct during the interview as asserting factual statements concerning Judge Moore,” Cronan wrote. “Because both of Kayla Moore’s claims are premised on reputational damage arising from that segment, her claims are barred by the First Amendment and must be dismissed.”
Cronan tossed the case with prejudice, meaning Moore cannot file it again.
Having jettisoned the litigation, it’s worth noting that Judge Cronan also took aim at the way the Moores handled the litigation. The dressing down appears in a footnote, but it is worth repeating here, citations omitted:
In responding to the undisputed facts proffered in Defendants’ Rule 56.1 statement, Plaintiffs repeatedly deny facts without citation to admissible evidence to controvert as required by Local Civil Rule 56.1(d). For instance, Plaintiffs deny Defendants’ relatively innocuous factual proffer of Cohen’s career as “a comedian and political satirist” by unhelpfully stating only that “Cohen is simply a fraudster” even though their Complaint alleges Cohen to be “an actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer.” Courts routinely deem admitted those facts “not contradicted by citations to admissible evidence.” The Court therefore disregards Plaintiffs’ denials that lack citation to evidence and has conducted its own independent review of the record supplied in connection with Defendants’ motion to ensure that any facts relied upon in this Opinion and Order have adequate support.
Attorney Larry Klayman, who represented both of the Moores, said Judge Cronan’s ruling was “fatally flawed both factually and legally” and “evidences an extreme bias and prejudice against the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.”
“Chief Justice Moore was defrauded by the admitted and proud fraudster Cohen, and then, contrary the agreed terms of a consent agreement to appear on the show, subjected to a vicious sexual smear,” said a statement released by Klayman. “The presiding federal judge, John Cronan, who was nominated by President Trump, had the case assigned to him when he was confirmed as a federal judge, went against the earlier assigned federal judge, Andrew Carter, an Obama appointee, and would not even allow full discovery into the allegations of the complaint, denying Moore even due process of law. Judge Carter had already denied Cohen’s, Showtime’s and CBS’s motion to dismiss.”
“Judge Cronan’s dismissal was predicted, as set forth in our prior motion to disqualify him from the case,” Klayman said. “It would appear that he is biased and prejudiced based on Chief Judge Moore’s ideological and religious beliefs, most particularly his opposition to gay marriage. Judge Cronan’s ruling makes no factual and legal sense, and frankly is outrageous and violation of his judicial oath. 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. It will be appealed today.”
Klayman’s statement says a notice of appeal has been filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Read the full 26-page opinion and order below:
Read the release signed by Moore below:
[image via Showtime screengrab]
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