President Donald Trump had a legal setback today in his efforts to stop a lawsuit by Summer Zervos, a former contestant from The Apprentice, who claims he made unwanted sexual advances and then disputed her accounts of same.
A panel of five judges in the New York Supreme Court appellate division denied a motion to stay the suit (read the ruling here). Trump’s lawyers claimed allowing the lawsuit to proceed could interfere with the president’s official duties and would unfairly put him under the purview of a state court judge.
The decision means the Zervos lawsuit can proceed unless further appeals by Trump go to the New York State Supreme Court, or a federal court intervenes.
Zervos has claimed Trump groped and kissed her when she came to him in 2016 seeking an opportunity, years after her 2005 appearance on The Apprentice show. She claimed Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood comments and his subsequent denial of claims from several women who claimed he assaulted them caused her to speak out.
When Trump also denied Zervos’s claim, she filed a lawsuit for defamation three days before his inauguration. The suit claimed her reputation was damaged by Trump’s denial. Trump’s lawyers have since sought to halt the suit, or at least delay it until after he leaves office.
Complicating matters is that Zervos’s suit was filed in New York state court. Trump’s attorneys have argued that the venue would give a state judge improper authority over the president, a position rejected by a lower court in March.
Trump’s legal team issued a statement calling the ruling incorrect. “There is no valid reason in this case — in which plaintiff is seeking merely $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.”
Zervos’ attorneys Gloria Allred (who withdrew from the case in March) and Mariann Wang praised the appellate court decision. .
“I am very happy with the court order permitting my former client, Summer Zervos, to proceed with discovery in her defamation case against President Trump,” Allred wrote in an e-mail. “I think it is very important that President Trump provide answers in Summer’s civil defamation case through the discovery process a.s.a.p. ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’”
“We look forward to proving Ms. Zervos’s claim that Defendant lied when he maliciously attacked her for reporting his sexually abusive behavior,” Wang said in a statement.