Roy Moore. (AP file photo/Brynn Anderson)
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) – Roy Moore’s attorney wanted to talk details.
Melissa Isaak wanted the judge to go one by one through 16 statements Moore – a former Alabama Supreme Court judge – made during the final weeks of his 2017 campaign for U.S. Senate responding to allegations of sexual misconduct. Leigh Corfman, who is suing Moore, alleges that these statements were defamatory.
Determining whether a statement is defamatory is a question for the court to initially decide, Isaak told Alabama judge John Rochester during a more than four-hour hearing in a Montgomery courtroom Monday, pertaining to Moore’s request for summary judgment in the defamation suit.
No bailiff attended the hearing. When Rochester, wearing a gold tie and no robes, announced a five-minute break, he waved down the four attorneys as he walked out the door. “No, no, sit down,” he said.
It was a strikingly casual hearing, given its relation to the story that rocked the 2017 off-year elections.
Thirty-two days before Alabama voters headed to the polls on Dec. 12, 2017, for a special election to fill Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, The Washington Post published Corfman’s account alleging that Moore – a district attorney working in Etowah County at the time – sexually abused her in 1979. He was 32 and she 14.
The Republican nominee’s poll numbers tanked as the issue dominated his campaign.
Democrat Doug Jones became the state’s newest senator and The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation into the story.
Almost two years after that tumultuous November, Isaak said Monday that Moore’s comments could be categorized as simple denials, subjective characterizations, opinion or hyperbole – none of which rise to the level of defamation, she argued.
Isaak pointed to the federal case in which President Donald Trump prevailed after adult film star Stormy Daniels sued him for defamation. A judge ruled in October that Trump’s “rhetorical hyperbole” was protected by the First Amendment.
In many of Moore’s comments, Isaak said, the politician was responding to the multiple allegations made against him.
“Nothing is directed at Leigh Corfman,” Isaak said.
However, Corfman’s attorney Jeff Doss – of the Birmingham firm Lightfoot, Franklin and White – said the “entire tapestry of comments” have to be considered to see the messaging that defamed his client.
Does pointed to Moore’s use of the word “malicious” in one comment. When people associated with Moore’s campaign spoke about the allegations, they suggested conspiracy theories and spoke half-truths, the attorney argued.
“Roy Moore all along never told them to stop,” Doss said. “The authorization was implied every step of the way.”
Isaak also represented Judge Roy Moore for U.S. Senate, which she said was only a financing committee to fund the “loose grassroots gathering of supporters” and should not be a part of the lawsuit.
Rochester asked each attorney if Judge Roy Moore for U.S. Senate would be a party in a lawsuit if one of its volunteers, say, got in a car accident while on the way to a courthouse.
Isaak said the question was a rabbit hole, but said she thought the campaign could not be sued in that instance. Doss said the committee was a plaintiff in a lawsuit Moore filed to challenge the results of the 2017 election.
“I’m going to go through everything,” Rochester told the attorneys at the end of the hearing.
Moore announced in June that, in 2020, he will once again run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
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