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Donald Trump

Trump told he can’t stop defamation case filed by ‘Apprentice’ contestant Summer Zervos

The ruling on Thursday is a legal setback for US President Donald Trump, who is facing multiple lawsuits focused on allegations women have made against him

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 5:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 May, 2018, 6:41am

US President Donald Trump will not be allowed to stay proceedings on a defamation suit filed by Summer Zervos, an Apprentice contestant who has claimed that he sexually harassed her, a New York court said on Thursday.

The ruling is a legal setback for Trump, who is facing multiple lawsuits focused on allegations women have made against him, as well as his public comments about those women. 

It could open him up to discovery in the case, allowing the prosecution to gather evidence against him, although he could also file further appeals to try to delay proceedings.  

Trump’s lawyers sought a temporary halt in the case filed by Zervos – who has accused him of groping and forcibly kissing her – while they awaited word on their appeal of a judge’s ruling this year that her defamation lawsuit could proceed. 

Zervos sued Trump for defamation after he denied her accusations, along with those of other women who accused him of unwanted sexual contact before he was elected president. He called them all “liars”.  

Lawyers for the president have argued that he was expressing a political opinion and could not be sued in state court while in office.

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But New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter dismissed these claims in an opinion issued March 20, writing: “No one is above the law.”  

Trump appealed that decision not long after, saying she was mistaken in not dismissing or staying the case, and his lawyers sought to defer proceedings while the appeal is pending.

The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court denied that request on Thursday, describing it as seeking “a stay of the action pending hearing and determination of” Trump’s appeal of Schecter’s order. 

Marc Kasowitz, an lawyer for Trump, called the appeal court’s decision incorrect, citing an earlier case against President Bill Clinton that stemmed from a sexual harassment claim. 

Kasowitz wrote in an emailed statement that it was “completely and unjustifiably contrary to the stays the courts uniformly granted when deciding whether a lawsuit against President Clinton could proceed in federal court.” 

“There is no valid reason in this case – in which plaintiff is seeking merely US$3,000 in damages, and which plaintiff’s counsel has repeatedly insisted was brought for political purposes – for the Court not to grant the requested stay in order to take the time to first decide the threshold Constitutional issue that is at stake,” he continued. 

Kasowitz said that the case raises what the US Supreme Court has called an “important” and unresolved constitutional issue – whether the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause bars a state court lawsuit against a president while in office. 

Mariann Meier Wang, an lawyer for Zervos, noted Thursday that the appeal court ruling marked the second time a court has rebuffed the president’s attempt to stay the case, after Schecter also denied such a request. 

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“We look forward to proving Ms Zervos’ claim that [Trump] lied when he maliciously attacked her for reporting his sexually abusive behaviour,” Wang said in a statement. 

Trump was also accused of defamation in a lawsuit filed last month by Stormy Daniels, the adult-film star who said she had a consensual sexual relationship with the president a decade before he was elected.