‘No one is above the law’: Trump must face defamation suit from Summer Zervos, who says he groped her
Trump to face ‘Apprentice’ contestant in court, due to 1997 Supreme Court precedent that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearing
US President Donald Trump must face a defamation lawsuit from a woman who accused him of sexually harassing her after she appeared on his television show The Apprentice, a judge has declared.
Trump had attempted to shut down the suit by Summer Zervos, who says he defamed her when he dismissed her accusations as lies, by saying that he was immune from lawsuits as he is the president.
But Justice Jennifer Schecter of the New York state court in Manhattan rejected said she found “absolutely no authority” to dismiss litigation related “purely to unofficial conduct” solely because Trump now occupies the White House.
“No one is above the law,” the judge wrote, in a finding based on the 1997 precedent that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings.
Mariann Wang, one of Zervos’ lawyers, said in a statement: “We are grateful for the opportunity to prove that that defendant falsely branded Ms. Zervos a phoney for telling the truth about his unwanted sexual groping.”
Zervos had met Trump when she became a contestant on The Apprentice in 2005. She accused him of kissing her against her will at his New York office in 2007, and later groping her in a Beverly Hills hotel at a meeting about a possible job.
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly said at rallies and on Twitter that accusations made against him by multiple women were “lies”, and retweeted a post on Twitter that called Zervos’ accusations a “hoax.”
Zervos said Trump’s denials of her accusations amounted to defamation and that being branded a “liar” caused diners to stay away from the restaurant that she runs. Her lawsuit sought damages and an apology.
In allowing Zervos’ case to go forward, Schecter cited a 1997 US Supreme Court precedent allowing former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones to pursue a sexual harassment case against then-President Bill Clinton to proceed.
That paved the way for Clinton’s impeachment the following year.
Trump’s legal team had argued the Jones decision applied only to federal courts and that Trump’s campaign statements were political speech protected by the US Constitution’s First Amendment.
But the judge said any listener, recognising that Trump knew “exactly what transpired”, could reasonably believe based on his statements that Zervos was “contemptible” because she had “fabricated” events for personal gain.
“In their context, defendant’s repeated statements … cannot be characterised simply as opinion, heated rhetoric or hyperbole,” Schecter wrote.
Trump also faces a lawsuit by porn actress Stormy Daniels to end an agreement under which she was paid US$130,000 in what she called hush money to keep quiet about an affair she claimed to have had with Trump beginning in 2006.
Also on Tuesday, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump, filed a suit in California to release her from a legal agreement requiring her to stay silent.
Trump has been accused by several women of misconduct, including after the release during the 2016 presidential campaign of an Access Hollywood recording in which he had spoken in vulgar terms about trying to have sex with women.
He later said the comments were “locker room banter” and his campaign issued an apology from him if anyone was offended.