Sacha Baron Cohen beats defamation suit filed by Roy Moore

Former Alabama judge says he was tricked into TV appearance by actor

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Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on Thursday defeated a $95 million defamation lawsuit filed by former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore, who said he was tricked into a TV appearance that lampooned sexual misconduct accusations against him.

The 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, upholding a lower court’s ruling in favour of Baron Cohen, said Mr Moore signed a disclosure agreement that prohibited any legal claims over the appearance.

The three judges also found it was “clearly comedy” when Baron Cohen demonstrated a so-called paedophile detector that beeped when it got near Mr Moore and that no viewer would think the comedian was making factual allegations against him.

The lawsuit centred on Mr Moore’s unwitting appearance on the comic’s Who is America? show.

The segment ran after he faced misconduct accusations during Alabama's 2017 US Senate race that he had pursued sexual and romantic relationships with teenagers when he was in his 30s. He denied the allegations.

Mr Moore had been told he was receiving an award for supporting Israel.

But in the segment, Baron Cohen appeared as counter-terrorism instructor “Col Erran Morad”. discussing bogus military technology, including the supposed paedophile detector.

The fake device beeped repeatedly as it got near Mr Moore, who sat stone-faced.

“Baron Cohen may have implied [despite his in-character disclaimers of any belief that Judge Moore was a paedophile] that he believed Judge Moore’s accusers," the court wrote in the unsigned summary order.

"But he did not imply the existence of any independent factual basis for that belief besides the obviously farcical paedophile-detecting ‘device,’ which no reasonable person could believe to be an actual, functioning piece of technology."

Mr Moore and his wife Kayla sued, saying the segment defamed him and caused them emotional distress.

The couple claimed the waiver he signed was unenforceable because it was obtained under a false representation.

The accusations against Mr Moore contributed to his loss to Democrat Doug Jones, the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in a quarter-century.

Baron Cohen has for years lured unwitting politicians into awkward interviews.

He has faced past lawsuits over similar pranks, but those were also tossed out because the people involved had signed releases.

Mr Moore and his wife indicated that they will appeal against the decision.

Updated: July 07, 2022, 10:27 PM