WASHINGTON — Failed US Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct by several women when they were teenagers, has been teasing another run in 2020. But for now, he's spending his time duking it out with comedian Sacha Baron Cohen in court over a prank interview.
Moore went before a judge Monday in his defamation suit against Cohen. In a segment that aired in July 2018 on Cohen's Showtime series Who Is America?, Cohen interviewed Moore while pretending to be an Israeli anti-terrorism expert. During the segment, Cohen produced a device that he said the Israelis had developed to identify sex offenders. As he waved the device over Moore — it looked like the metal detector wands used at security checkpoints — it beeped.
The bit was a nod to the multiple women who came forward during Moore's unsuccessful Senate bid in 2017 to accuse him of pursuing relationships, sometimes involving allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, when they were teenagers. Once Moore realized what Cohen was doing, he ended the interview and walked out. He sued Cohen for defamation in September.
Moore and Cohen are far from resolving Moore's defamation claim. Instead, they've been sparring in recent months over what court should hear the case. Moore filed suit in federal district court in Washington, DC, arguing it was the appropriate location because that's where Cohen taped the interview. Cohen, Showtime, and CBS Corp. argued the case should be moved to federal court in Manhattan, per the terms of an agreement Moore signed before filming.
Moore lost. US District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled Monday in favor of Cohen and Showtime Monday, which means the case will be transferred to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Moore's lawyer Larry Klayman told BuzzFeed News in an email that they plan to challenge Hogan's decision before the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, but "also are prepared to litigate and feel confident of success in the Southern District of New York."
Cohen's lawyer Elizabeth McNamara referred a request for comment to Showtime. A network spokesperson did not immediately respond.
The Cohen case isn't the only court fight Moore is tied up in as he weighs a Senate run in 2020. He's defending against a defamation lawsuit filed in state court in Alabama by one of the women who said he sexually abused her, Leigh Corfman, related to Moore's denials on the campaign trail when her allegations surfaced. Moore is separately pursuing a defamation lawsuit against Corfman, also in state court in Alabama.
Notwithstanding his current legal entanglements, Moore last month said in a radio interview that he was "seriously considering" running again against now-Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, in 2020. Moore lost his bid for former attorney general Jeff Sessions' seat in a special election in 2017, but that seat will be up for grabs again in the next election cycle. Two weeks ago, a poll showed Moore would be the frontrunner in a Republican primary.
Monday's hearing didn't start well for Moore, who was sitting in court next to his wife, Kayla Moore, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Klayman, Moore's attorney, introduced his client as "chief justice," the title Moore held when he served on the Alabama Supreme Court. Hogan noted Moore was a "former" judge, however, and had Klayman acknowledge Moore was no longer on the bench. Moore was removed twice from the state Supreme Court before running for Sessions' seat.
Klayman had another awkward exchange with the judge later in the hearing. Hogan asked Klayman about an argument he'd made in a brief about Cohen and Showtime preferring New York because they were more likely to get a "left-leaning" judge there. Klayman initially said he didn't believe he used that term, but walked that back when Hogan cited the page number where it appeared. Federal judges tend to bristle at arguments about their political leanings, perceived or real.
Hogan announced his decision from the bench right after hearing arguments. As the judge spoke and it became clear where his decision was headed, Moore, wearing a small cross on the lapel of his dark suit jacket, closed a folder in front of him and sat back in his chair. He didn't speak during the hearing.
Hogan found that even though Moore was broadly arguing that the contract he signed to appear on Cohen's show was based on fraud — the contract used the name of a fake TV network, Yerushalayim TV, according to court filings — Moore didn't specifically claim he was defrauded into agreeing to a clause about where legal claims should be filed, known as a forum selection clause.
McNamara, the lawyer arguing for Cohen, Showtime, and CBS, noted Cohen won on this very issue in a lawsuit filed over his movie Borat, where the plaintiffs tried to sue him in federal court in Alabama. A judge moved that case to federal court in Manhattan, citing the forum selection clause in a contract McNamara said was nearly identical to the one Moore signed.
McNamara also argued the contract applied to Cohen, Showtime, and CBS even though they weren't named in the document because it referenced "licensees, parents, subsidiaries, and affiliates" — Cohen owns Yerushalayim TV and licensed the program to Showtime.
Hogan asked if Moore's arguments would apply to any of the other current and former politicians who were also tricked into appearing on Cohen's show; former vice president Dick Cheney and Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders were among Cohen's guests. Klayman argued that unlike other interviewees, Moore didn't go along with the fraud and walked out.
In what appeared to be a veiled threat, Klayman told the judge that but for the fact that Moore was a "gentleman," Cohen wouldn't be walking around now. Asked to clarify what that meant after the hearing, Klayman told BuzzFeed News, "He would have been punched out on the spot."