Narrow focus on rape definition won’t get Trump a new trial | Courthouse News Service
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Narrow focus on rape definition won’t get Trump a new trial

The ruling says Donald Trump ignored trial evidence and misrepresented the verdict, arguing he'd been cleared of rape when "the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”

MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump will not get a new trial over his sexual abuse of a magazine writer in the 1990s, a judge ruled Wednesday, slamming the former president’s attempt to minimize the verdict by seizing on the legal definition of rape. 

The weeklong trial ended in May with Trump ordered to pay $5 million to E. Jean Carroll, the former Elle advice columnist who says Trump raped her in a fitting room while the two were shopping together at the famed Bergdorf Goodman department store. 

Pushing for a new trial or lower damages, Trump had argued the award was out of step with the jury’s decision that Carroll did prove the battery count for sexual abuse but not rape, as it is legally defined. 

Trump’s trial attorney Joseph Tacopina had signaled on the day of the verdict that their appeal would lock into that distinction. He called the outcome a “strange verdict” but said he was “obviously very happy that Donald Trump was not branded a rapist.” 

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled the argument “entirely unpersuasive” on Wednesday, suggesting Trump might as well have been given that brand. 

“The finding that Ms.Carroll failed to prove that she was ‘raped’ within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape,’” Kaplan wrote. “Indeed, as the evidence at trial recounted below makes clear, the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”

Trump's appeal to the Second Circuit is already pending, and Tacopina, of the firm Tacopina Seigel & DeOreo, quickly amended that filing to include Wednesday’s ruling. 

In his bid for a new trial, the Trump attorney minimized the jury’s finding that his client had sexually abused Carroll: "Such abuse could have included groping of plaintiff's breasts through clothing or similar conduct, which is a far cry from rape," Tacopina wrote

Carroll was a star witness in the trial that ran from late April to early May. On the stand, she detailed what she recalled from the attack decades ago: She ran into Trump, the two recognized one another, and Trump asked her to help him shop for a gift. He suggested lingerie, and the two joked about trying on a bodysuit he picked up, tossing it back and forth. The playful encounter then turned violent as they entered the fitting room, where Trump shut the door and forced himself on Carroll, slamming her against the wall as he forced his fingers, then his penis, inside of her. 

For Kaplan, Tacopina missed the mark in trying to downgrade the assault to a less physically aggressive type of abuse. 

“This jury did not award Ms. Carroll more than $2 million for groping her breasts through her clothing, wrongful as that might have been,” the Clinton-appointed judge wrote. 

“Instead, the proof convincingly established, and the jury implicitly found, that Mr. Trump deliberately and forcibly penetrated Ms. Carroll’s vagina with his fingers, causing immediate pain and long lasting emotional and psychological harm. Mr. Trump’s argument therefore ignores the bulk of the evidence at trial, misinterprets the jury’s verdict, and mistakenly focuses on the New York Penal Law definition of ‘rape’ to the exclusion of the meaning of that word as it often is used in everyday life and of the evidence of what actually occurred between Ms. Carroll and Mr. Trump.”

Carroll was able to bring the battery count under a newly enacted New York law that allows survivors a one-year period to file claims previously barred by the statute of limitations. Jurors awarded Carroll $2 million in compensatory damages on the count, plus $20,000 in punitive damages. 

Found liable for defaming Carroll when he denied her account, Trump will also have to pay $1.7 million in damages for a reputation-repair program, plus $1 million in other damages. Carroll's expert testified that repairing damage to her name could cost up to $2.7 million.

Kaplan found no basis for revisiting the damages on either count. 

Carroll meanwhile has a second defamation lawsuit against Trump before the same judge, seeking $10 million in damages based on Trump’s initial denial of her allegations while still in office: He had stated that Carroll was “not my type.” 

Attorney Roberta Kaplan, of the firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink, said in a statement that she looks forward to fighting that second case, set for trial in January 2024. 

In the meantime: "Now that the court has denied Trump's motion for a new trial or to decrease the amount of the verdict, E. Jean Carroll looks forward to receiving the $5 million in damages that the jury awarded her.”

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Categories / Civil Rights, Law

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