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Summer Zervos's Lawsuit Against Trump Can Go Forward, Judge Rules

A New York judged ruled that Trump isn't immune to civil lawsuits in state court as a sitting president.

by Lauren Messman
Mar 20 2018, 7:27pm

When former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign accusing Donald Trump of sexual assault, the candidate responded by calling Zervos (and the many other women who accused him of similar deeds) "horrible, horrible liars." In response, Zervos filed a defamation suit that has been slowly working its way through the courts. On Tuesday, a New York state judge ruled that Trump will have to face the defamation suit despite his position as president, the New York Post reports.

Presidents are immune from lawsuits in federal court when it comes to matters of official conduct. But a 1997 Supreme Court ruling in Clinton v. Jones found that sitting presidents can be sued in federal court for matters unrelated to their official duties. The question facing Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Jennifer Schecter was whether a president can be sued in state court over conduct that took place before he became president. Trump's lawyers argued that he had immunity, but Schecter disagreed.

"[Clinton v. Jones] left open the question of whether concerns of federalism and comity compel a different conclusion for suits brought in state court," Schecter wrote in her decision. "Because they do not, defendant’s motion to dismiss this case or hold it in abeyance is denied."

Zervos's suit, which she announced with her lawyer Gloria Allred last January, claims that Trump "debased and denigrated" her when she came forward "to inform the public of the facts she knew were true, to make clear that Donald Trump had kissed and groped her without her consent, repeatedly." In oral arguments last December, Trump's lawyers tried to get Schecter to dismiss the case, arguing that their client only used the word liars as campaign rhetoric.

According to Politico, Schecter also declined to halt the case until Trump's presidency was over, meaning that he might have to submit a deposition about his contact with Zervos while in office. The former Apprentice contestant claimed that Trump touched her inappropriately,"thrusting his genitals" at her during a work meeting at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007.

There are still many obstacles facing Zervos's suit, but Schecter's ruling means that it will continued to be litigated. The ruling could also pave the way for more civil suits against Trump at the state level while he's still in office.

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