A defamation lawsuit filed against Donald Trump by a contestant on his former reality show ‘The Apprentice’ who accused him of sexual harassment can proceed, a New York state judge ruled on Tuesday.
The decision raises the possibility of the President of the United States being forced to answer questions about his behavior toward women, and being required to hand over documents from his past.
Justice Jennifer Schecter in the Manhattan Supreme Court said there was ‘absolutely no authority’ to dismiss or stay a civil lawsuit by Summer Zervos related ‘purely to unofficial conduct’ from before Trump became president.
‘A sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal court for unofficial acts,’ she wrote, adding: ‘No one is above the law.’
The ruling could force Trump to submit to questioning in a deposition by lawyers for Zervos, and lead to further public scrutiny of other claims of sexual misconduct that have been made against him.
Former ‘The Apprentice’ contestant Summer Zervos sued Donald Trump for defamation after he called her a liar for claiming he groped her in 2007
On Tuesday a New York judge ruled that the lawsuit can proceed because it concerns actions the president allegedly took before he was a public official
Trump was at the White House as the ruling was issued, hosting a working lunch with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
During his campaign for president last October, Zervos alleged that Trump had made unwanted sexual advances toward her when she met him at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles in 2007 to discuss career opportunities.
She alleged Trump moved toward her aggressively during the encounter and touched her on the breast – but said she rebuffed him.
Zervos filed suit in January 2017, three days before Trump’s inauguration, but her claims were newspaper fodder in the closing weeks of the campaign season.
During one October 2016 rally, Trump dismissed Zervos’ story and others like it as ‘total fiction’ and ‘all false stuff.’
New York State Supreme Justice Jennifer Schecter , shown during a December 2017 hearing in Zervos’s defamation suit, ruled in her favor on Tuesday
And following a subpoena a year later in the Zervos lawsuit, Trump himself commented that ‘it’s totally fake news. It’s fake and made-up stuff and it’s disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the world of politics.’
The lawsuit itself alleges that the president is a ‘liar and misogynist’ who has ‘debased and denigrated Zervos with false statements about her.’
Marc Kasowitz, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, invoked a clause of the United States constitution saying states – including their courts – ‘can’t exercise any control over the president.’
He also referred to the sexual harassment lawsuit made by Paula Jones against then-president Bill Clinton in 1994.
According to Kasowitz, that case enshrined federal supremacy over state jurisdiction. A federal judge dismissed Jones’ lawsuit but Clinton later reached an out-of-court settlement with her.
Trump was a tycoon and a reality TV host, but not yet a politician, in 2007 when Zervos says he sexually assaulted her
Zervos is pictured attending the 27th annual ‘Night Of 100 Stars’ black tie dinner in February 2017 in Pacific Palisades, California
Zervos first hit the news in October 2016, weeks before Election Day, appearing in a press conference with attorney Gloria Allred in Los Angeles
Representing Zervos, Mariann Meier Wang countered that proceedings could in fact be handled in a way that need ‘not impede in any way the president’s duties.’
Zervos and several other women who made similar allegations came forward during the presidential campaign after a 2005 videotape surfaced of Trump boasting that famous men could get away with sexually manhandling women.
At the time of the tape’s release, Trump dismissed the comments as ‘just words’ and ‘locker room talk,’ and denied the allegations while threatening to sue his accusers after the election.