By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK -Sacha Baron Cohen on Thursday defeated an appeal by former Alabama judge Roy Moore who had accused the British comedian of defamation for falsely portraying him as a pedophile in an interview for the show “Who Is America?”
In a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the interview was constitutionally protected speech, agreeing with a lower court judge that it was “clearly comedy and that no reasonable viewer would conclude otherwise.”
The court also said Moore waived his right to pursue his $95 million lawsuit by signing a standard consent agreement before the interview, which he knew would be televised. It also dismissed related claims by Moore’s wife, Kayla.
Larry Klayman, the Moores’ lawyer, called the decision a “travesty,” saying the consent agreement was ambiguous because the former judge crossed out a provision waiving claims related to alleged sexually oriented behavior and questioning.
“This should not have been taken away from the jury,” Klayman said in an interview. The Moores will ask the entire 2nd Circuit to review the panel decision, something it rarely does.
Russell Smith, a lawyer for Baron Cohen, said in a statement: “After nearly four years of litigation, it seems Mr. Moore’s frivolous lawsuit is finally over.”
Paramount Global’s Showtime network, which broadcast “Who Is America?” and was also a defendant, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The disputed interview took place in Washington, where Moore, 75, had expected to receive an award for supporting Israel.
Baron Cohen, disguised as fictional Israeli anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad, instead waved a wand-like object that purportedly detected pedophiles by identifying an enzyme that secreted at “three times the level of non-perverts.”
It beeped when waved near Moore, and he walked off.
The interview occurred after Moore, a former Republican chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, lost his 2017 U.S. Senate race in that state following accusations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied, toward female teenagers while in his 30s.
While Baron Cohen’s show referenced those accusations, the appeals court said that even if he implied that he believed Moore’s accusers, no reasonable person would think the “obviously farcical pedophile-detecting device” actually worked.
“Humor is an important medium of legitimate expression and central to the well-being of individuals, society, and their government,” the panel wrote.
Baron Cohen, 50, had prevailed in several other lawsuits over his 2006 mockumentary “Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
The case is Moore et al v Cohen et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-1702.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)