A former US Senate candidate is trying to revive a $95m lawsuit against British actor Sacha Baron Cohen.
A lawyer for Roy Moore complained the Alabama politician was unfairly treated when a judge threw out his lawsuit last July.
US district Judge John Cronan ruled Mr Moore was not defamed when he appeared in Baron Cohen’s comedy series Who is America? because it was “clearly a joke and no reasonable viewer would have seen it otherwise”.
But Mr Moore disagreed and at an appeals court in New York on Friday he tried again.
His lawyer Larry Klayman even compared his client to actor Johnny Depp, saying Mr Moore also deserved to have a jury determine the validity of his claims – not solely a judge.
At the original hearing, Judge Cronan said it should have been “abundantly clear to any reasonable viewer” the comedian was using humour to comment on accusations in news reports that Mr Moore had allegedly had inappropriate sexual encounters, including with a minor.
Judge Cronan recounted that in the segment, Baron Cohen waves a wand he claimed could detect enzymes secreted only by “sex offenders and particularly paedophiles” and the device seemed to emit a beeping noise when it was moved closer to Mr Moore.
On Friday, Mr Klayman urged a reinstatement of the 2019 lawsuit to allow him to gather evidence to prove Mr Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was defamed and subject to emotional distress and fraud because he was tricked into the TV interview.
Mr Klayman said: “There’s nothing more heinous than being accused of being a paedophile.
“People jump off buildings over that.”
Circuit Judge Gerald E Lynch noted Mr Moore had signed a release provision for the show, before he knew Baron Cohen was involved, disclaiming reliance on “any representation made about who these people are and what they’re up to”.
And he added the ability of Mr Moore to bring claims of fraud, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress were “categorically released” by those signatures.
‘Classic satirical commentary’
Still, Mr Klayman pleaded for a reinstatement of the lawsuit, saying: “You have to give it to a jury. It’s not for a judge to decide.”
“This was not handled fairly. It was not handled the right way,” he added. “And my client deserves his day in court.”
Elizabeth McNamara, arguing for Baron Cohen, said the actor’s depiction of himself as being capable of discerning whether someone is a paedophile by waving a magic wand was “the classic satirical commentary that is fully protected by the First Amendment”.
Mr Moore, a Republican, has sometimes been called the “Ten Commandments Judge”, known for hard-line stances opposing same-sex marriage and supporting the public display of the commandments.
During his 2017 race for US Senate, sexual accusations contributed to his loss to Democrat Doug Jones, the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in a quarter-of-a-century.