Sunday, September 24, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Sunday, September 24, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

A media circus of his own making: Judge pushes civil rape case to trial

The court said news coverage “significantly” provoked by Donald Trump himself is no reason to push back the date of a trial at which three women are expected to detail sexual assault allegations.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump can’t use his criminal prosecution nor self-invited news coverage to delay the civil rape trial against him scheduled to start next week, a judge ruled Monday, spiking the second of two last-minute attempts by the ex-president to put off the proceedings. 

Trump argued that the media attention surrounding the unprecedented charges against a former U.S. president removed his chance at fair jury selection. He asked to push the trial back for a four-week “cooling off” period. 

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found the reference to unrelated proceedings unjustified. 

“The suggestion that the recent media coverage of the New York indictment — coverage significantly (though certainly not entirely) invited or provoked by Mr. Trump’s own actions — would preclude selection of a fair and impartial jury on April 25 is pure speculation,” Kaplan wrote in the 10-page order (parentheses in original). 

“So too is his suggestion that a month’s delay of the start of this trial would ‘cool off’ anything, even if any ‘cooling off’ were necessary,” the judge continued.

After noting that any number of newsworthy events could happen during a postponement, Kaplan also said, “it bears emphasis that at least some portion of the recent media coverage of Mr. Trump’s indictment was of his own doing. 

“There has been no shortage of recent news articles focused on Mr. Trump’s own public statements on his social media platform and in press conferences and interviews he has given about his indictment,” Kaplan wrote. “It does not sit well for Mr. Trump to promote pretrial publicity and then to claim that coverage that he promoted was prejudicial to him and should be taken into account as supporting a further delay.” 

The trial of Trump on April 25 pits him against writer E. Jean Carroll, who says he raped her in the mid-1990s. She sued under a New York law giving assault survivors a one-year period to file claims that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations. Trump was still in office in 2019 when Carroll first went public with the allegations, detailing them in a magazine article and in her memoir “What Do We Need Men For?” 

At trial, Carroll plans to call two women as witnesses who each say Trump sexually assaulted them. Jurors will also see the “Access Hollywood” tape that features the Trump bragging during his stint as a reality TV host about aggressively pursuing women for sex.  

In the push to delay, Trump expressed concern that jurors would link the assault allegations with the 34 felony charges tying Trump to hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, since both involve sexual misconduct. Kaplan said proper examination of jurors would take care of media-inspired prejudice, and noted the sharp contrast between an alleged extramarital affair and forcible rape. 

To be sure, at a certain level of generality, both cases do indeed have something to do with ‘sex,’” Kaplan wrote.

“But the ‘something’ that each has to do with it is dramatically different.” 

Carroll's suit alleges one count of civil battery as well as a defamation claim based on Trump denial of Carroll’s account, including on his social media platform Truth Social. She has a separate pending defamation lawsuit against Trump over his initial denial, while he was still president, which is tied up in a procedural dispute

In a separate delay request last week, Trump's team pointed to evidence that Carroll’s firm has sourced funding for her case from a nonprofit called American Future Republic, which is backed primarily by billionaire LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, a major Democratic donor and critic of Trump. Carroll's lawyers maintain that hers is a contingency case and note that Hoffman’s funding didn’t come in until a year after the lawsuit was filed. 

Kaplan declined to delay but allowed some new discovery to support Carroll’s claim of when backing began as well as her knowledge of its source. 

Trump’s attorney declined to comment on Monday’s ruling. Carroll’s team has cast the eleventh-hour motions as obvious delay tactics. 

“One thing is clear,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote in a letter to the court. “Trump will stop at nothing to avoid having a jury hear Carroll’s claims.”

Follow @NinaPullano
Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment, Media, National, Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.