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Court rejects Roy Moore’s defamation suit against Sacha Baron Cohen

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, left, was sued by former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore after Cohen interviewed him for a 2018 episode of the series “Who Is America?.” (AP Photo)

An appeals court on Thursday rejected the $95 million defamation lawsuit former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore filed against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen over the satirical television series “Who Is America?.”

Moore sued Cohen, CBS and Showtime for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud after an unflattering appearance in a 2018 episode that mocked his sexual misconduct allegations. He said he was tricked into the interview. By rejecting the suit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan upheld a lower court’s ruling. Neither Moore nor Cohen’s representatives have responded to The Washington Post’s request for comment.

On “Who Is America?” Cohen donned disguises to speak with (and spoof) U.S. politicians and conservative figures. On the episode in question, Cohen poses as the fictional Israeli anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad and interviews Moore, to whom he presents a wandlike device he says can detect “sex offenders and particularly pedophiles.” It begins to beep as Cohen waves it over Moore, a reference to a series of Post investigative reports from late 2017 in which several women shared accounts of Moore pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. The former justice lost a special election to fill a Senate seat in December 2017.

Cohen — known to lampoon prominent figures, often while playing his characters Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev and Brüno Gehard — won the legal battle’s earliest round when a D.C. district judge in April 2019 upheld the validity of the consent agreement Moore signed and ruled that the defamation case be moved to New York. Moore previously said in a statement that he believed he was being flown to Washington, D.C., to “receive an award for my strong support of Israel.”

In July 2021, U.S. District Judge John P. Cronan of New York dismissed the suit, which also contained claims of emotional distress and fraud from Moore’s wife. Cronan, pointing to the waiver Moore signed ahead of the interview, said Cohen’s claims were “clearly a joke and no reasonable viewer would have seen it otherwise.”

The appeals court’s summary order agreed that “the segment at issue was clearly comedy.”

“Baron Cohen may have implied (despite his in-character disclaimers of any belief that Judge Moore was a pedophile) that he believed Judge Moore’s accusers,” the court document states, “but he did not imply the existence of any independent factual basis for that belief besides the obviously farcical pedophile-detecting ‘device,’ which no reasonable person could believe to be an actual, functioning piece of technology.”