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Judge tosses Roy Moore’s $95 million defamation suit against Sacha Baron Cohen: ‘Clearly a joke’

A judge dismissed a lawsuit from former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, right, against actor Sacha Baron Cohen about a segment on Cohen's satirical television show. (AP)
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Sacha Baron Cohen’s biting political satire will not cost him $95 million, after a federal judge on Tuesday ended a years-long legal battle between the comedian and former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore over a TV segment the judge deemed “clearly a joke.”

Moore, the Republican candidate who lost the special election in 2017, sued Cohen, CBS and Showtime over a skit in the 2018 television series “Who Is America?” in which the comedian posed as a fictional anti-terrorism expert named “Erran Morad.”

While acting as the made-up character in the satirical series, Cohen brought out a wandlike prop that he claimed could detect “sex offenders and particularly pedophiles.” When the actor waved the wand over Moore, it began beeping.

The implication that Moore was a pedophile spurred a defamation claim from the former Alabama judge, as well as claims that Cohen had committed fraud by luring Moore into the interview under false pretenses and intentionally inflicted extreme emotional distress.

The segment aired in the wake of a Washington Post investigation that revealed allegations from women who said Moore carried on several inappropriate relationships while working as a district attorney in Alabama, including one who claimed he initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14. Moore has repeatedly denied those allegations.

Sacha Baron Cohen upsets Roy Moore in first round of $95 million defamation battle

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John P. Cronan dismissed Moore’s suit, saying Cohen’s claims were “clearly a joke and no reasonable viewer would have seen it otherwise.”

Cronan dismissed the case, including claims made by Moore’s wife, Kayla, citing First Amendment protections and a waiver Moore signed before participating in the interview that barred him from suing.

“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 in his opinion. “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.”

A series of public figures have fallen prey to Sacha Baron Cohen’s controversial new show, “Who is America?” (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

Larry Klayman, an attorney for Moore, said Cronan’s decision was “predicted” and alleged the judge was “biased and prejudiced” against Moore because of his conservative politics and religious beliefs.

“Judge Cronan’s ruling makes no factual and legal sense, and frankly is outrageous and violation of his judicial oath,” Klayman said in a statement shared with The Post. “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.”

Roy Moore sues Sacha Baron Cohen, CBS and Showtime for $95 million, claiming ‘extreme emotional distress’

Klayman said Moore has already filed a notice of appeal and expects to challenge the ruling before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Moore’s lawsuit was not the first thwarted challenge to Cohen’s satirical comedy. Last year, a Georgia judge dismissed a suit filed by the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor who claimed Cohen tricked the grandmother into an interview for the sequel to the satirical mock-documentary “Borat.” Cohen has also been unsuccessfully sued by other people he duped, including a driving instructor and a bingo hall director, while filming the first “Borat” film and “Bruno,” another comedic mock-documentary.

Following Tuesday’s case dismissal, Cohen shared the offending clip that spurred the lawsuit on Twitter.

“Sorry, Roy,” he wrote in a tweet accompanying the video. “Nice try.”

Read more:

Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32

Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest prank: Using a fake pedophile detector on Roy Moore

Two more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall