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Woman who accused Roy Moore of unwanted sexual contact sues him for defamation

Senate candidate Roy Moore, with his wife Kayla Moore, talk to the media after voting and arriving by horse at the Gallant Volunteer Fire Department in Gallant, Ala. on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In a lawsuit that echoes a civil case against President Trump, an Alabama woman on Thursday sued failed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore and his campaign for defamation, citing harsh personal attacks she faced after coming forward with allegations that he touched her sexually when she was 14 years old.

Leigh Corfman is not seeking financial compensation beyond legal costs, said her attorney, Neil Roman. She is asking for a declaratory judgment of defamation, a public apology from Moore, and a court-enforced ban on him or his campaign publicly attacking her again. Corfman said in a statement that the suit seeks "to do what I could not do as a 14-year-old — hold Mr. Moore and those who enable him accountable." 

A representative of Moore's campaign, Brett Doster, said, "We look forward to transparently discussing these matters in a court of law."

Roy Moore accuser Leigh Corfman spoke to the “Today” show Nov. 20, following allegations she made in The Washington Post. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

Corfman told The Washington Post in November that when Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney in 1979, he took her to his house, undressed her, touched her over her underpants and bra and guided her hand to touch his genitals over his underwear.

The allegations upended the race. On Election Day, exit polls showed 52 percent of voters in Alabama believed the allegations against Moore were probably or definitely true, and 7 percent said those allegations were the most important factor in deciding their vote. Doug Jones's victory marked the first time in 25 years that a Democrat in Alabama won a U.S. Senate race.

Among Moore's statements that the suit claims are defamatory: He called Corfman's allegations of abuse "politically motivated," "completely false" and "malicious." On Nov. 10, the day after The Post published its story, Moore told Sean Hannity of Fox News he had never met Corfman. Weeks later, in a complaint that unsuccessfully sought to disqualify the election results, Moore said a polygraph examination confirmed that he did not know her.

Corfman was among five women who told The Post that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

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Corfman's suit — filed in Montgomery County, Ala., one day after Jones took the oath of office — represents a fledgling legal strategy where people who say they were victimized long ago are litigating their claims through defamation lawsuits. The strategy allows them to proceed even after the statute of limitations has run out for criminal charges or for lawsuits seeking damages for sexual abuse, as it has in Corfman's case.

The defamation suit against Trump was brought by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the reality show "The Apprentice" who says he kissed and groped her in 2007. During the 2016 campaign, Trump called the claims by multiple women that he had touched them improperly "big lies," and he called the women "liars." A judge in New York State Supreme Court is weighing Trump's motion to dismiss the case. 

Zervos's attorney, Gloria Allred, has said that a defamation case she and attorney Mariann Meier Wang settled in New York in 2015 is "an important precedent." In that case, two former ballboys accused a Syracuse University basketball coach of defaming them after they spoke up about alleged sexual abuse.

Allred also represents a woman who accused Moore of kissing and groping her when she was 16 years old. At a news conference, Beverly Young Nelson produced her high school yearbook containing an inscription she said was written by Moore to prove that he knew her, though she later acknowledged adding the location, date and initials "D.A." after the signature.

Comedian Bill Cosby has also been sued for defamation in cases that involve allegations of abuse years ago. A federal judge in Pennsylvania last year tossed out a suit filed by a woman who said Cosby defamed her in the media after she accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her. A separate defamation lawsuit, filed in 2014 by several women who say Cosby sexually assaulted them, is pending in Massachusetts. Yet another defamation case, filed against Cosby in 2015 by former supermodel Janice Dickinson, is pending in the California courts.

Under a landmark Supreme Court ruling, the legal standard for defamation of a public figure is that the statements were known to be false or showed a "reckless disregard for the truth," experts say. The standard is lower for defaming a private individual — negligence toward the truth — though Corfman's suit claims Moore's comments meet the higher standard.

Corfman's lawsuit cites numerous negative comments made by Moore and five top campaign allies, including campaign manager Rich Hobson, who announced Wednesday that he is running for Congress.

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