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Trump seeks new trial in civil sexual abuse case

Last month, jurors found the former president liable of sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll. Now his attorneys want a new trial, arguing the $5 million in damages the court awarded her was excessive.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump's attorneys filed a motion notice in the U.S. District Court of Southern New York on Thursday, alerting the federal court that the ex-president wants a new trial to decide how much he has to pay a woman who jurors found he sexually abused and defamed.

The attorneys also said a remittitur, when the court reduces an excessive damages award, would be acceptable in lieu of a new trial.

In May, jurors in Manhattan found Trump liable for sexually abusing former Elle Magazine writer E. Jean Carroll in 1996, and subsequently defaming her by denying the allegations to news outlets and mocking her appearance on social media. Though not a criminal conviction, the court still ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million in damages.

Forbes reports that as of June 2023, Trump has a net worth of about $2.5 billion.

Carroll first publicly accused Trump of sexual assault in 2019, but didn't file suit for battery and defamation until November 2022. By that point the former president had left office and New York had enacted a new state law that makes it easier for adult sexual assault survivors to sue their abusers, regardless of when in the past the assault occurred. Caroll said in her complaint that Trump raped her in a fitting room in Manhattan's Bergdorf Goodman luxury department store in 1996, after she refused to wear a lingerie item Trump had ordered her to put on.

“I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth," Carroll wrote in a statement following the jury's decision. (Emphasis in original). 

Trump denied the accusations in several press interviews and public statements in June 2019, and again in October 2022 in a post on his social media site Truth Social. In the 2019 interviews, he denied ever meeting Carroll despite appearing in a photograph together. He later conceded that he may have once shook her hand at a social event. Despite the concession, Trump's 2022 Truth Social post called Carroll's then-pending civil suit against him a "complete con job."

"[Carroll's case] is a Hoax and a lie, just like all the other Hoaxes that have been played on me for the past seven years," Trump wrote.

The Manhattan jury last month thought otherwise, despite Trump's attorneys arguing that Carroll was attempting to cash in on national anti-Trump sentiment to sell her 2019 book “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal.”

“They hope you will be blinded by the hatred for Donald Trump, if you feel that way,” Trump's attorney Joseph Tacopina, of the law firm Tacopina, Seigel & DeOreo, told jurors in his closing arguments of the May civil trial.

In a memorandum accompanying Thursday morning's motion notice, Tacopina argued that a new trial or remittitur for damages is warranted because the $5 million the court awarded Carroll was out of step with the jury's decision. He pointed out that while the jurors found Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll, they specifically did not find that Trump had raped her.

This, the attorney said, was reason enough to grant a new trial on the $2 million the court ordered Trump to pay Carroll over her battery claim. Failing that, he asked the court to reduce the payment to no more than $400,000.

"The court should order a new trial on damages or grant remittitur because contrary to plaintiff's claim of rape, the jury found she was not raped but was sexually abused by defendant during the 1995/1996 Bergdorf Goodman incident," Tacopina wrote. "Such abuse could have included groping of plaintiff's breasts through clothing or similar conduct, which is a far cry from rape."

He similarly argued that the $2.7 million the court awarded Carroll for her defamation claim was "motivated by sympathy rather than by evidence of harm." He pointed out that Carroll is relatively affluent - she reported at trial making about $5,000 per month - and has had a successful post-Elle career despite Trump's 2019 and 2022 public statements denying her allegations.

The attorney again asked for a new trial on the damage award, which Carroll's expert witness, the Kellogg School of Management's marketing professor Ashlee Humphreys, helped calculate. Barring a new trial, he asked the court to reduce the award to no more than $100,000 for general compensatory damages and $368,000 to help Carroll repair her reputation.

"Plaintiff... testified that she has made more money after leaving Elle magazine because of her successful business with Substack," Tacopina wrote. "Therefore, plaintiff clearly has suffered no financial harm from the October 12, 2022 [Truth Social] statement, and Professor Humphreys did not factor that into her analysis."

Regardless of how the court decides to handle the new trial / remittitur motion, Trump's attorneys have also appealed the case to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Tacopina, Seigel & DeOreo did not immediately respond to questions as to how this motion might affect that appeal.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Entertainment, Media, Trials

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