As evidence collection for the long-delayed case gets underway finally, attorneys may seek to depose the twice-impeached former president under oath.
MANHATTAN (CN) — No longer shielded by the supposed immunity afforded by the the Oval Office, former President Donald Trump must face a 2017 defamation suit from a woman he is accused of assaulting, New York’s highest court ruled on Tuesday.
Summer Zervos sued Trump just before his inauguration four years ago. At a time when the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape had wounded his campaign, Trump called the former “Apprentice” contestant a liar and opportunist for coming forward with her own sexual assault allegations.
For the duration of Trump’s single term, however, the case went nowhere, tangled up in claims by his attorney Marc Kasowitz that that the so-called Supremacy Clause of the Constitution bars state-court jurisdiction against a sitting U.S. president.
“The very exercise of jurisdiction by a state court over the President would constitute impermissible ‘direct control’ over the federal government,” Kasowitz wrote in appeals brief last year while Trump was still in office.
But now that Trump has left office, the New York Court of Appeals dismissed his appeal on Tuesday, writing in a brief order that “the issues presented have become moot.”
Zervos’ case will now return to Manhattan Supreme Court, where her counsel may have an opportunity to depose the twice-impeached former president under oath. During his appeal, evidence collection had been on hold.
“Now a private citizen, the defendant has no further excuse to delay justice for Ms. Zervos, and we are eager to get back to the trial court and prove her claims,” Zervos’ attorney Beth Wilkinson, with the Washington firm Wilkinson Stekloff, wrote in an email Tuesday.
In January 2019, New York’s mid-level First Department appeals court ruled 3-2 that the case should proceed because it found Trump as president was “not above the law.”
An earlier ruling called Zervos’ case “materially indistinguishable” from one in which former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones accused then-President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed Jones’ case go forward in 1997, and Clinton was impeached the next year.
Trump got the case put on hold in January 2020, pending a determination from the New York Court of Appeals as to whether the case should be delayed until he’s out of office. Lawyers for Zervos sought permission to gather evidence and potentially depose the sitting president, but the Albany-based high court refused to vacate the stay.
Zervos claims Trump assaulted her in 2007 at his Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow. At the time Zervos was a 30-year-old California restaurateur who had met the future president when she appeared on the fifth season of his reality show, which filmed in 2005 and aired in 2006.
The complaint alleged that Trump “ambushed” Zervos on “more than one occasion” — repeatedly kissing her on the mouth, touching her breast and pressing his genitals up against her.
“Ms. Zervos never consented to any of this disgusting touching,” her 20-page complaint states. “Instead, she repeatedly expressed that he should stop his inappropriate sexual behavior, including by shoving him away from her forcefully, and telling him to ‘get real.’”
She sued in 2017 after he retweeted a message calling her claims “a hoax” and described women who accused him of sexual assault and harassment as “liars” trying to hurt his presidential chances.
Zervos is seeking a retraction, an apology and approximately $3,000 in damages.
Zervos was among more than a dozen women who came forward during Trump’s 2016 campaign to accuse him of sexual assault or sexual harassment over the years. Trump called the women “liars” trying to harm him with “100 percent fabricated” stories.
The Manhattan Supreme Court case is presided over by Judge Jennifer Schecter.
From January 2017 through December 2019, Zervos was represented by attorney Mariann Wang from the firm Cuti Hecker Wang.
Her prior counsel also included famed women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who withdrew her representation in the defamation case in 2018.
Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to request for comment.