Trump Lawyer Presses for Presidential Immunity in Defamation Case

Gloria Allred (center) speaks to reporters in Manhattan Supreme Court on Dec. 5, 2017, after a hearing on claims that President Donald Trump defamed Summer Zervos (left) by denying her claims that Trump sexually assaulted her when she was a contestant on Trump’s reality-television show “The Apprentice.” (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

MANHATTAN (CN) – President Donald Trump’s attorneys argued before a New York judge that a state court lacks jurisdiction to impose “direct control” over a sitting president by proceeding further with a defamation suit filed against him before his election.

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the reality show “The Apprentice,” maintains Trump’s denials of her sexual assault accusations amount to false and defamatory statements and have triggered personal threats and damage to her reputation.

In a October 2016 press conference at the Los Angeles offices of high-profile women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred, Zervos said Trump made multiple unwanted advances – first in his New York office and then in a Beverly Hills hotel in 2007.

Zervos claims Trump kissed her “aggressively,” and also thrust his genitals at her.

Three months later, Allred and Mariann Wang of Manhattan-based Cuti Hecker Wang filed a defamation suit on Zervos’ behalf against Trump in Manhattan Supreme Court on January 17, 2017, days before his inauguration. In the lawsuit, Zervos describes the alleged assaults and Trump’s subsequent numerous denials and rebuttals.

Trump’s rebukes on Twitter included calling accusations against him “made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED,” “100% fabricated and made-up charges,” and “made up stories and lies.”

Trump’s attorneys moved to dismiss the case in March, arguing the court must address presidential immunity issues before reaching the substance of the claims.

A seemingly shell-shocked and tearful Zervos attended the oral arguments Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court alongside Allred and Wang. Trump did not attend the proceedings.

If the case goes forward, it could lead to Trump being subpoenaed to hand over any documents from his campaign related to any accusations of sexual misconduct made against him. Trump could also be required to testify or make video depositions.

Zervos’ attorney Mariann Wang referenced up to 13 women who have accused Trump of sexual impropriety, which he has denied across the board.

Silver-haired New York defense attorney Marc Kasowitz of Kasowitz Benson Torres began his oral arguments before Justice Jennifer Schecter with the clarification that his motion to vacate the defamation claims against Trump have “nothing to do with putting anybody above the law.”

Kasowitz’s arguments centered mostly on the Supremacy Clause, and he repeatedly declared “a state court may not exercise jurisdiction over the president of the United States while he or she is in office,” and asserted from the clause that any “any control over the president is direct control.”

Marc Kasowitz (center) exits the Manhattan Supreme Court on Dec. 5, 2017, after a hearing on claims that President Donald Trump, whom Kasowitz represents, defamed Summer Zervos by denying her claims that Trump sexually assaulted her when she was a contestant on Trump’s reality-television show “The Apprentice.” (JOSH RUSSELL, Courthouse News Service)

Kasowitz argued the Supremacy Clause makes no distinction between official and unofficial duties of the president, insisting that if there was such a distinction it would have been made during Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against then-President Bill Clinton. That case led to the Supreme Court ruling that a sitting president has no immunity from civil litigation and no court is obligated to delay a case against a sitting president.

Kasowitz insisted Trump never actually called Zervos a liar, while also portraying her accusations as “purely political speech” made three weeks before the election.

To argue that denial is not defamation, Kasowitz cited a case in which comedian Jerry Seinfeld prevailed against defamation charges stemming from his denials that his wife had plagiarized a cookbook.

Schechter asked Wang how a stay would prejudice Zervos, to which Wang replied that “a four to seven-year delay would cause the loss of evidence.”

She added: “We have the right to that evidence and we have the right to proceed.”

Judge Schechter took the matter under submission.

Immediately following the hearing, Allred praised Wang’s arguments as “awesome, incredible, she made every important argument that needs to be made on behalf of our client Summer Zervos.”

Allred added “this case should not be stayed for potentially seven years.”

 

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