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A $95m defamation case brought by former US Senate candidate Roy Moore against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen will proceed, a New York court has ruled. Moore and his wife are suing Cohen, Showtime and CBS over a segment on Cohen’s TV show ‘Who is America?’ which was broadcast in 2018. In it Cohen, who was pretending to be an Israeli counter-terrorism expert named ErranMorad, demonstrated a ‘device’ that it was said could detect paedophiles. It beeped every time Cohen put it near Moore. Moore sued claiming the programme portrayed him as a sex offender and a paedophile, and that he had ‘suffered extreme emotional distress’ as a result.

When Moore became a Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama in 2017, multiple women accused him of making unwanted advances or of sexual assault when he was in his thirties and they were in their teens, with the youngest being 14. Moore denied the allegations.

Mr Moore says that he told producers in advance that he would sue if the show aired, but it was nonetheless broadcast. The lawsuit also suggests that Moore did sign a release before being interviewed, but that he claims it was fraudulently obtained.

Mr Cohen has filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, but this was denied by the judge, and the case will move on to the next stage, where evidence will be filed.

Unlike in England & Wales, in the US, where the claimant is a ‘public figure’, they cannot succeed in a defamation claim unless they can show that the publisher acted with actual malice. This means that they knew the allegations were false, or recklessly disregarded the truth. As such defamation claimants face a harder task in the US if they are public figures, as Moore is.

The First Amendment also provides powerful protection for free speech, and the United States’ Supreme Court has held that public figures cannot recover damages for distress, where it was caused by a caricature, parody, or satire of the public figure that a reasonable person would not have interpreted as factual.

Both these free speech protections are likely to play a part in this case as it moves forward.