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Sacha Baron Cohen is good. Damn good. He’s spent this entire century fooling people into giving interviews, and his subjects hardly know they are targets of the man’s unique brand of satirical comedy. And while he’s been repeatedly sued, he’s got an excellent track record in court. That’s due to the First Amendment, of course, but it starts with the consent agreements that interviewees sign.
But for Showtime’s Who Is America?, Cohen has run into a bit of a hiccup named “Yerushalayim TV.”
Roy Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court justice who infamously lost a U.S. Senate race following allegations of sexual misconduct, is suing after appearing on the program. He’s unhappy with a segment that featured Cohen using a fictional device meant to detect pedophiles.
Before Moore was interviewed, he signed a consent agreement with Yerushalayim TV. Moore agreed to waive any legal claims, but he now argues that Yerushalayim is a fictional entity, and that Cohen’s misrepresentation voids the deal. While this case got bounced from D.C. to New York, Moore is now going to be able to move to at least limited discovery in the case.
Last week at a court hearing (the transcript became available yesterday), U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Carter Jr. denied a motion to dismiss filed by Cohen, Showtime and CBS.
The judge rules that he can’t decide on the pleadings whether Cohen, Showtime and CBS can enforce the consent agreement. That’s because he says it all depends on their relationship to Yerushalayim TV. The defendants submit that the entity was set up in Wyoming and is owned by Cohen and is a subsidiary of a company that licensed Who Is America? to Showtime, and while Carter acknowledges that “it seems likely that defendants are at least associated,” the judge adds, “That is not a fact I can assume at this phase of the litigation.”
The parties are now fighting over the implication of the judge’s ruling and what it means for the next phase. The judge has told the parties to discuss the scope of discovery and also expressed the sentiment, “We should be able to move to summary judgment fairly quickly. It seems to me that the bulk of discovery will be related to this agreement and the corporate relationships discussed.”
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