An appellate court in New York ruled Thursday that a lawsuit by a former “Apprentice” contestant who accused President Trump of unwanted kisses and groping can proceed – shutting down claims by his lawyers that Trump is immune from defamation lawsuits while in office and raising the specter that he will have to sit for sworn questioning.
A panel of New York appellate judges issued its ruling Thursday in a case brought by Summer Zervos in which Trump accused her – and numerous other women – of being liars for alleging that he sexually harassed them. Zervos sued for defamation.
"Despite the suggestion in his brief that he is the “embodi[ment of] the Executive Branch and though he is tasked with significant responsibilities, the President is still a person, and he is not above the law,” the appeals court panel wrote. The judges cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Clinton v. Jones, which ruled that presidents can still be sued while in office for unofficial acts.
Trump’s legal team can seek to have the appellate court’s ruling reviewed by the New York State Supreme Court in Albany.
Zervos was among over a dozen women who emerged during Trump's 2016 campaign with allegations of sexual misconduct years earlier. She alleges that Trump “ambushed” her on multiple occasions, starting in 2007, and kissed her on the mouth, touched her breast and rubbed his genitals against her.
Trump's lawyers have said the case shouldn't go forward while he's in office. They also say his comments were opinions and protected free speech.
The president himself has said the lawsuit is politically motivated and that Zervos only turned on him after he failed to accept an invitation to her restaurant. Trump claims that Zervos made numerous attempts to contact him and seek employment even after the alleged sexual harassment occurred.
Zervos' lawyers say Trump's words were falsehoods that subjected her to threats.
Justice Jennifer Schecter originally allowed the case to proceed in March of last year, arguing that nothing in the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause suggests the president is immune from civil lawsuits.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.