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Trump fails to end 'Apprentice' contestant's defamation lawsuit

16 March 2019

President Donald Trump will be forced to face a defamation lawsuit brought by former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos, according to a new appeals court ruling.

"We respectfully disagree with the majority decision in the Appellate Division", he said in a statement.

A state court judge last summer denied a motion by Trump's attorney to dismiss the suit, which accuses Trump of lying in response to Zervos' claims that he groped her in a Beverly Hills hotel and kissed her on the lips while she was on the show in 2007.

He called the women "liars" trying to harm his campaign with "100 percent fabricated" stories, and he retweeted a message specifically calling Zervos' claim "a hoax".

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Zervos, an "Apprentice" contestant in 2005, accused Trump of kissing her against her will at a 2007 meeting in NY, and later groping her at a Beverly Hills hotel.

The panel's decision cites the decades-old Paula Jones suit against Bill Clinton, noting that the US Supreme Court failed to conclude then that simply being president shielded Clinton from civil litigation.

The decision, which increases the prospect that Trump could have to sit for sworn questioning in the lawsuit, was not unanimous. Her resolve to stay quiet changed, she said, after an "Access Hollywood" recording emerged in October 2016 of Trump boasting about groping women.

Trump's legal team argued that the U.S. Constitution immunizes him from state court lawsuits arising from his private conduct before he took office. They also say his comments were opinions and protected free speech.

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Trump has denied Zervos' claims and called her case politically motivated. But in their ruling on Thursday, the court said that finding the president in contempt would be a "hypothetical scenario that is highly unlikely to occur in the context of this lawsuit". Subjecting the president to a state trial court's jurisdiction "interferes with his ability to carry out his constitutional duty of executing the laws of the United States", the dissent said. Both Trump and Zervos are Republicans. That paved the way for Clinton's impeachment the following year.

The court also ruled that Zervos had made out a sufficient claim of defamation, and her suit was not barred by California's anti-SLAPP law. Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, had argued that Trump defamed her when he suggested that she had lied about being threatened to keep quiet about their alleged past relationship.

Zervos is seeking a retraction, an apology, and compensatory and punitive damages.

In a statement to Deadline today, attorney Wang of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP said: "We are very pleased that the First Department has affirmed once again that Defendant 'is not above the law".

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Trump fails to end 'Apprentice' contestant's defamation lawsuit