Court freezes woman’s defamation suit against Trump

Jennifer Peltz
Associated Press

New York – A former “Apprentice” contestant’s lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s response to her sexual assault allegations was put on hold Tuesday, when a court froze the case until New York’s top court weighs whether to dismiss the case or delay it through his presidency.

FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2018, file photo, Summer Zervos leaves New York state appellate court in New York.

The decision, by a midlevel state appeals court, holds off further proceedings and evidence-gathering – including sworn pretrial questioning of Trump – in Summer Zervos’ defamation case. The questioning had been due by Jan. 31.

Trump’s lawyers at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP said they were pleased with the ruling, which lets them take the case to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest.

“We believe that the Court of Appeals will agree that the U.S. Constitution bars state court actions while the president is in office,” the firm said in a statement.

A request for comment was sent to Zervos’ lawyers.

Zervos, a California restaurateur, appeared on “The Apprentice” when Trump hosted the show in 2006. She alleges the then-businessman subjected her to unwanted kissing and groping when she sought career advice in 2007.

She says he defamed her by calling her a liar when she came forward publicly during his 2016 presidential campaign. Both he and she are Republicans.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that his statements weren’t defamatory and that the case should be postponed until after his presidency or dismissed altogether.

The midlevel appeals court ruled against Trump in a 3-2 decision in March, but on Monday gave him permission to take the case higher.

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 them “liars” trying to harm him with “100 percent fabricated” stories. He also issued a statement denying Zervos’ allegations and retweeted a message calling them “a hoax.”

Zervos is seeking a retraction, an apology and damages.