N.Y. Appeals Court Rules Trump Can’t Avoid Summer Zervos’ Defamation Suit

Summer Zervos Mariann Wang

An appellate court in NY ruled Thursday that a lawsuit by a former "Apprentice" contestant who accused President Trump of unwanted kisses and groping can proceed - shutting down claims by his lawyers that Trump is immune from defamation lawsuits while in office and raising the specter that he will have to sit for sworn questioning. "We reject defendant President Trump's argument that the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution prevents a New York State court - and every other state court in the country - from exercising its authority under its state constitution".

"Contrary to defendant's contention, Clinton v Jones did not suggest that its reasoning would not apply to state court actions", the judges said in their majority decision.

A lawyer for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr Trump has denied Ms Zervos's claims and called her case politically motivated.

Trump's lawyer Marc Kasowitz said Trump will appeal to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, "which we expect will agree with the dissent".

The case could lead to more serious legal headaches for Mr. Trump, according to former New York State Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg. They also say his remarks were opinions that he had a free-speech right to express in the course of a heated campaign.

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In a defamation lawsuit filed by attorneys for Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice", Judge Dianne Renwick wrote, "the President is still a person, and he is not above the law". She had been a contestant on The Apprentice the previous year.

She says she didn't go public with her allegations for nearly a decade because she admired Trump as a businessman and thought he had had just a couple of episodes of bad behavior with her. Her resolve to stay quiet changed, she said, after an "Access Hollywood" recording emerged in October 2016 of Trump boasting about groping women. Trump also republished on Twitter a post calling Zervos' accusations a "hoax".

Zervos is seeking a retraction, an apology, and compensatory and punitive damages.

"Any time you're under oath there is information there that could come out and be turned over to law enforcement, and then, particularly with this president, there's the risk of perjury", said Bragg, who joined the New York Law School in January 2019 as a visiting law professor and co-director of the Racial Justice Project.

Zervos' lawyers say Trump's words were factual falsehoods that subjected her to threats.

The current schedule sets a deadline of June 28 for depositions, with document and electronic discovery expected to be concluded by the end of July.

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