MANHATTAN (CN) – A panel of New York appeals court judges considered Thursday afternoon whether President Donald Trump can be held in contempt for refusing to be deposed in a defamation case brought by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos.
In June, the New York Supreme Court ordered Trump to sit for a deposition as part of the lawsuit brought by Zervos, in which she claims he made defamatory remarks in reaction to her allegations that he kissed and groped her without permission over a decade ago.
As he has maintained throughout the litigation, Trump’s attorney Marc Kasowitz insisted Thursday that the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause bars a state court from requiring a sitting president to be deposed, and asked for the defamation complaint to be dismissed.
During the brisk hearing before a five-judge panel of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division’s First Department, Kasowitz claimed that the “mere assertion of jurisdiction by any court over the president” is barred.
He told the appeals court that a sitting president “must be always in function” without interference or control from state courts.
Kasowitz also insisted that Trump’s denials of Zervos’ accusations are political speech protected by the First Amendment.
Summarizing her take on Kasowitz’ claims, Justice Angela Mazzarelli remarked “his argument is essentially that we have no power because we’re a state court.”
Zervos’ attorney Mariann Wang, from the Cuti Hecker Wang firm, told the panel of judges that there is “no precedent whatsoever for this immunity argument.”
The justices asked Wang to interpret whether Trump could theoretically be incarcerated by his refusal to abide by a state court’s order for deposition. Wang said the court may have those powers but she would not necessarily expect it to escalate to that level, citing two years of cooperation with Trump’s attorneys in the case.
Justice Peter Tom asked Wang to clarify how far the jurisdiction to prosecute Trump goes, asking if a sitting president can be subject to lawsuits in city court or even small claims court.
“If there is no immunity, then he could be sued anywhere?” Tom asked.
Wang replied in the affirmative with the condition that “there has to be an actual claim.”
“The president does not stand above the law,” Wang said in closing, reprising a statement she’s made multiple times in the Zervos litigation.
In March, the court denied Trump’s bid to dodge the lawsuit by claiming immunity.
“It is settled that the president of the United States has no immunity and is ‘subject to the laws’ for purely private acts,” Justice Jennifer Schechter wrote.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge James Otero in California tossed adult film star Stormy Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against Trump and awarded the president attorney’s fees.
Trump’s attorney in that case, Charles Harder, called the order a victory and a “total defeat” for Daniels.
On Oct. 26, the New York Supreme Court will hear arguments over Zervos’ motion to compel discovery from other Trump accusers as the case moves forward.
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