President Donald Trump can’t get out of a civil lawsuit filed by a former “Apprentice” contestant, a New York judge ruled today.
The lawsuit was filed by Summer Zervos three days before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. During the 2016 presidential election, Zervos had come forward to accuse Trump of groping her breast and repeatedly kissing her during a 2007 meeting, several years after she had appeared on “The Apprentice.”
According to Zervos, she had met with Trump to discuss potential work opportunities, and decided to come forward to speak about what had happened after the release of the “Access Hollywood” video, in which Trump infamously discussed groping other woman without their consent.
Trump denied the allegations, and released a statement from one of Zervos’ cousins claiming she had “nothing but glowing things” to say about Trump after her time on his reality show.
Zervos responded by suing Trump for defamation, alleging that his denials had damaged her reputation.
As Politico reported, Trump’s attorneys attempted to dismiss the case, arguing that as president, he should be immune from a lawsuit in a state court during his term in office.
In Judge Jennifer Schechter’s ruling, she rejects Trump’s argument, finding “absolutely no authority” to dismiss the case based on “unofficial conduct” that happened before Trump was President and that “bears no relationship to any federal executive responsibility.”
“No one is above the law,” wrote Schechter.
The ruling also denied Trump’s request to delay the case until he left the White House.
As long as this lawsuit continues, Trump faces the possibility of being ordered to submit to a deposition about his behavior with Zervos and possibly other women as well. Lawyers for Stormy Daniels, the porn star who has claimed she had a sexual affair with Trump, are undoubtedly following this litigation with keen interest.
As Politico noted, the ruling was heavily influenced by a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case involving then-President Bill Clinton and his efforts to fight a harassment and defamation lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, who was an Arkansas state employee during Clinton’s tenure as governor. In that case, the Court issued a unanimous ruling that Clinton could not claim immunity from a civil suit over actions he took before becoming president.
The Clinton case dealt with a suit filed in federal court, and the Supreme Court did not decide the issue of whether a suit filed in a state court was too burdensome on a president’s duties. The decision has also garnered criticism for failing to give proper weight to the ways that civil lawsuits could be used as political weapons to entangle a sitting president, arguments which Trump’s attorneys attempted to make, but were ultimately found to be unpersuasive by Judge Schechter.
As expected, Trump’s attorneys objected to the decision and vowed to “immediately appeal.”
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.