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May 26, 2019

Trump ‘not above the law,’ N.Y. appeals judges rule, ordering Summer Zervos defamation case go forward

March 14, 2019
An appeals court rules President Trump is not immune from lawsuit filed by Summer Zervos. (Pool/Getty / David McNew/Getty Images)

A court has ruled President Trump is not above the law — again.

Three mid-level appeals judge wrote Thursday that President Trump is not immune from a defamation lawsuit filed by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos while he’s in the Oval Office.

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The 3-2 decision by a five-judge panel of the state’s Appellate Division First Department upholds a lower court’s ruling allowing Zervos’s case to proceed. The reality TV star alleges that Trump forced himself on her in two separate encounters in 2007. She charges that Trump smeared her during the 2016 presidential campaign by calling her a liar in search of fame.

Trump had argued he did not have to respond to the lawsuit filed in state court while in office.

“The current sitting President attempts to shield himself from consequences for his alleged unofficial misconduct by relying upon the constitutional protection of the Presidency. We reject defendant President Trump’s argument,” Judge Diane Renwick wrote for the five-judge panel.

“Though he is tasked with significant responsibilities, the President is still a person, and he is not above the law.”

The judges cited the landmark Supreme Court case pitting Bill Clinton against Paula Jones, which found that a president must respond to civil litigation filed in federal court. They wrote the ruling also applies to suits in state court. The case led to the revelation that Clinton had a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.

Two judges dissented, arguing that Trump’s unique duties meant he should not have to respond to the lawsuit while President.

“The President should not be forced to defend this lawsuit while he is in office. Therefore, in my view the action should be stayed until such time as defendant no longer occupies the office of President of the United States,” Judge Angela Mazzarelli wrote.

Zervos attorney Mariann Wang hailed the decision.

“We look forward to proving to a jury that Ms. Zervos told the truth about Defendant’s unwanted sexual groping and holding him accountable for his malicious lies,” Wang said.

Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz has argued that Clinton v. Jones does not apply to state lawsuits. He vowed to appeal.

“We respectfully disagree with the majority decision in the Appellate Division. We believe that the well-reasoned dissenting opinion by 2 of the 5 justices, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Clinton v. Jones case, is correct in concluding that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars state courts from hearing cases against the President while he or she is in office,” Kasowitz said. “We will seek to appeal the majority decision to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which we expect will agree with the dissent.”

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