President Trump has been ordered to sit for a deposition in a defamation lawsuit against Summer Zervos. Veuer’s Sam Berman has the full story.
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump cannot dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on his “Apprentice” reality show who accuse him of sexual groping, a New York appeals court ruled Thursday.
U.S. presidents may not claim constitutional protection to gain temporary immunity from private lawsuits over alleged misconduct, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court said.
“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,” the five-justice panel ruled in a decision written by Justice Dianne Renwick. “Instead, we find that the Supremacy Clause was never intended to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases and controversies under the state’s constitution.”
“Though he is tasked with significant responsibilities, the President is still a person, and he is not above the law,” the court added.
Although the justices concurred that Zervos’ case presented a valid argument for defamation, Justices Angela Mazzarelli and Peter Tom said the lawsuit should be delayed until Trump leaves office.
“Subjecting the President to a state trial court’s jurisdiction imposes upon him a degree of control by the State of New York that interferes with his ability to carry out his constitutional duty of executing the laws of the United States,” Mazzarelli wrote in the partial dissent.
The majority ruling upheld an earlier New York Supreme Court decision that allowed the case to go forward. In June, justices of New York’s highest court rejected efforts by Trump’s lawyers to win a temporary block of legal discovery in the Zervos case. The decision set the stage for a likely pretrial deposition of Trump sometime this spring or summer.
“We respectfully disagree with the majority decision in the Appellate Division,” said Trump’s attorney Marc Kasowitz in a statement that called the partial dissent “well reasoned.”
“We will seek to appeal the majority decision to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which we expect will agree with the dissent,” he said.
Mariann Meier Wang, an attorney for Zervos, said she and the former Apprentice contestant were pleased by Trump’s latest legal setback in the case. “We look forward to proving to a jury that Ms. Zervos told the truth about Defendant’s unwanted sexual groping and holding him accountable for his malicious lies,” Wang said.
Filed in January 2017, Zervos’ lawsuit alleges that Trump “ambushed” her more than once in 2007, nine years before he was elected president, by kissing her on the mouth, touching her breast, and pressing his genitals against her.
Zervos also accused Trump of defaming her during presidential campaign rallies and via Twitter. During an Oct. 15, 2016, campaign stop in Maine, Trump alluded to Zervos by referring to “false allegations and outright lies, in an effort to elect Hillary Clinton President,” the lawsuit charges.
Trump has denied Zervos’ allegations and dismissed them as false. During state Supreme Court arguments in the case, Kasowitz said Trump’s statements about Zervos were constitutionally protected remarks in which he defended himself.
Trump’s attorneys rely in part on some of the legal arguments then-President Bill Clinton’s lawyers made when he was accused in a 1994 federal court lawsuit over an alleged sexual assault. Paula Jones alleged that the attack on her took place in 1991 when she was an Arkansas state employee and Clinton was the state’s governor.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed that presidents may be tried in federal courts during their office terms for allegations of private misconduct. After a four-year legal battle, Clinton agreed to pay an $850,000 settlement.
Attorneys on both sides in the Zervos case agreed that there has been no definitive legal ruling on whether a sitting U.S. president may be sued in a state court over allegations that do not involve official White House duties.
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