EXCLUSIVE: Unsurprisingly, there is little on which Sacha Baron Cohen and failed GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore see eye to eye. However, it still might raise an eyebrow a bit to discover that the discord literally includes which way The Trial of the Chicago 7 star turns his gaze.
As the defendants seek to dismiss Moore’s almost three-year old $95 million defamation suit against master satirist Baron Cohen over a damning appearance in Showtime’s Who Is America?, the political plaintiff’s lawyer is hoping to take the double Oscar-nominated performer to task for where he was looking during a recent deposition via Zoom. Really.
“The video does clearly show [sic] Cohen looking downward – most likely at his phone or tablet — with virtually every question that I posed, and it is thus obvious that he was being fed answers by someone,” Moore’s lawyer Larry Klayman wrote in an amended letter sent to U.S. District Court Judge John P. Cronan on April 7. The letter (read it here) takes on the confidentiality of the video of the Borat Subsequent Moviefilm actor’s deposition and his on-camera mannerisms, so to speak.
“He is indeed the self-described proud master of fraud and deception and his being fed answers comes as no surprise given his past conduct,” the conservative and litigious (just ask Hillary Clinton) Judicial Watch founder continued. “I urge the Court to watch the [sic] Cohen video and reach its own conclusion, which is obvious.”
“The ramifications of this obvious conduct are criminal in nature,” Klayman adds, tossing an implied statutory grenade into the mix.
Commonly, lawyers for both sides are in the room during a deposition, along with technical support staff and the individual being deposed. And on such occasions, there is often some chatter or permitted interruption from said lawyers depending on the nature and direction of the questions. However, amid a global pandemic and bicoastal participants in this New York-based case, things are a little different. That’s what seems to be the heart of this tempest in an apparent teacup.
Showtime had no comment on the matter when contacted Tuesday by Deadline. But Baron Cohen’s personal attorney did explain.
“Sacha Baron Cohen is 6’3’’ and this was a Zoom deposition,” Russell Smith tells Deadline of what actually went down in the digital sit-down a few weeks ago. “He had to look down at his laptop to see the lawyer asking him questions,” added the SmithDehn LLP lawyer.
“He never looked down at text messages from counsel during the deposition, because there were no such messages,” Smith adds.
Nonetheless, with a formal response to Klayman’s letter coming from Defendant’s lawyers on April 9, Cronan on Monday stepped in to turn down the volume and try to find common ground. As the federal judge’s order of April 12 noted:
The parties are directed to meet and confer on the confidentiality designation issue raised by Plaintiffs pursuant to Paragraph 13 of the Protective Order entered by the Court on December 22, 2020. The parties are ordered to file a joint status letter on April 16, 2021, notifying the Court whether this dispute has been resolved. In the event this issue has not been resolved by the parties, the Court will conduct a conference to address the issue. Further, after receiving the parties’ joint status letter on April 16, 2021, the Court will schedule a conference to discuss the other issues raised in Defendants’ April 9, 2021 response letter, including Plaintiffs’ counsel alleged violation of Local Civil Rule 1.5(h)(1) and his communications with Defendants’ counsel. This conference likely will also address the confidentiality designation dispute in the event it is not resolved by the meet-and-confer process.
First filed in September 2018 in D.C. District Court, then moved to the Empire State at the defendants’ urging, the defamation case from Moore and his wife centers on the one-time Alabama Supreme Court chief justice’s appearance in Baron Cohen and Showtime’s 2018 limited series Who Is America?, along with a supposed “pedophile detector.”
Moore says he was conned into the interview with a disguised Baron Cohen, who was posing as an Israeli anti-terrorism expert. Baron Cohen, Showtime and the one-time CBS Corp (the case was filed before its 2019 corporate remarriage with Viacom) say Moore signed a release. Moore, who faced a slew of accusations of sexual misconduct with minors during his unsuccessful 2017 Senate bid, alleges his signature “was obtained through fraud” and therefore the release is “void and inoperative.”
In the course of the ongoing case, the April 7 letter from Klayman, who has been recently suspended by the D.C. Court of Appeals for 90 days over ethics issues and intends to contest the ruling, came one day after Davis Wright Tremaine LLP attorneys for Baron Cohen and fellow defendants Showtime and CBS participated in a briefing on their latest motion to have the matter tossed out.
In fact, the letter quote above is the second from Klayman on the same topic, submitted later on April 7 “after Defendants sent an email to Plaintiffs’ counsel pointing out that the letter provided false information to the Court and requesting its immediate withdrawal,” to quote the defendant’s lead lawyer Elizabeth McNamara in her April 9 correspondence to Cronan – a letter where the Davis Wright Tremaine LLP attorney calls out Klayman for “repeated deceptive conduct.”
“Plaintiffs have repeatedly confirmed that their objection to Defendants’ confidentiality designation is based on their outrage at the fact that the Who Is America? segment featuring Roy Moore is available to the public while the video of the [sic] Cohen deposition is not,” McNamara goes on to say (read it here). “In other words, Plaintiffs wish to make the video public purely to cause Mr. [sic] Cohen public discomfort in retaliation for the discomfort Defendants allegedly caused Plaintiffs, and, at the same time, to generate publicity for Plaintiffs’ counsel.”
Arguing that courts “regularly restricted access” to depositions and other visual material related to celebrities like Baron Cohen, McNamara concludes: “Such use of deposition video is inappropriate and should not be countenanced by the Court.”
What the court ultimately decides will come in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Baron Cohen is up for Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance as infamous activist Abbie Hoffman in The Trial of the Chicago 7 at this month’s Oscars, as well as for Best Adapted Screenplay for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. The 93rd Academy Awards are on April 25.
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