NEW YORK — The lawsuit filed against President Trump by a former contestant on The Apprenticewho accused him of groping and then defaming her moved a step closer Tuesday to a decision on whether the case should go to trial.
In clashing court arguments, lawyers for Summer Zervos said she suffered threats after Trump publicly said she had “made up” her claims in a politically motivated effort to help Hillary Clinton beat him in the 2016 presidential race.
Trump “cannot be allowed to attack a woman who has factually described his sexual groping and be allowed to get off scot-free,” argued Zervos attorney Mariann Meier Wang during the hour-long hearing before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter.
Marc Kasowitz, Trump’s personal lawyer, contended that Trump said nothing wrong while defending himself. He also argued that the case cannot legally be tried in state court, and should be dismissed or at least delayed.
Citing the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, he said Trump’s motion to throw out the case “has nothing to do with putting anyone above the law.” Instead, he said it was about “protecting the ability of the president to do his constitutionally-mandated job.”
Schecter did not issue an immediate ruling on the dismissal motion, saying she would study the court arguments and legal briefs before making a decision in the potentially precedent-setting case.
Zervos, who sat quietly in the lower Manhattan courtroom behind her attorneys, is among roughly a dozen women who publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct during last year’s presidential race. But she’s the first to sue him.
Filed in January, her legal action alleges that Trump “ambushed” her more than once in 2007, six years before he was elected president, by kissing her on the mouth, touching her breast, and pressing his genitals against her.
Zervos also accused Trump of defaming her during campaign rallies and via Twitter, his favorite social media platform. At an Oct. 15, 2016, campaign stop in Maine, Trump alluded to Zervos by referring to “false allegations and outright lies, in an effort to elect Hillary Clinton President,” the lawsuit charges.
Trump’s attorneys are relying on some of the legal arguments then-President Bill Clinton’s lawyers made when he was accused in a 1994 federal court lawsuit over an alleged sexual assault. Paula Jones alleged that the attack took place in 1991 when she was an Arkansas state employee and Clinton was the state’s governor.
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed that case to proceed in federal court. After a four-year legal battle, Clinton agreed to pay an $850,000 settlement.
Both sides in the Zervos case said there has been no definitive ruling whether a sitting U.S. president may be sued in a state court over allegations that do not involve official White House duties.
Kasowitz cited a footnote in the Supreme Court’s Clinton-Jones decision to support his argument that the Zervos case must be dismissed or postponed until Trump’s presidential term has ended.
The footnote stated that “any direct control by a state court over the president … may implicate concerns that are quite different” from the issues in the Jones case.
When Schecter asked whether he believed that she would be unable to preside over the lawsuit, Kasowitz responded, “not with respect to the President, your honor.”
Schecter noted that the footnote “leaves the question open,” without deciding the issue.
“What better court to hear a defamation case against a born and bred New Yorker,” who some of the allegedly improper statements just a few miles from the courthouse, argued Wang.
Wang added that Zervos’ legal team would accommodate Trump by scheduling sworn depositions from him around his White House schedule — or even holding them in between presidential golf outings at his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate.
Kasowitz declined to comment after the hearing. Zervos said little publicly other than thanking her attorneys. As she made their way through a crowd of TV and still photographers, co-counsel Gloria Allred said Zervos had shown “admirable courage” in challenging Trump.