‘Apprentice’ Contestant Can Proceed With Trump Suit After Court Ruling
The court’s decision, in a case against the former president by Summer Zervos, could compel Mr. Trump to testify under oath.,
The legal issues facing former President Donald J. Trump compounded on Tuesday when the highest court in New York State allowed a defamation suit from a former contestant on his reality television show “The Apprentice” to proceed.
The suit was filed by the contestant, Summer Zervos, in 2017, after Mr. Trump said that she had lied when she accused him of having groped and kissed her against her will years earlier.
Mr. Trump had tried to stop the suit, arguing that as president, he was protected from legal action. Two courts had decided against him before his lawyers appealed the case to the State Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York. But before the court heard the case, Mr. Trump ceased to be president.
Ms. Zervos’s lawyer argued to dismiss his appeal. On Tuesday, the court granted that motion.
“The trial court ruled against him, the appellate division ruled against him and as it was pending here, he left office, so the issue disappeared,” said Gary Spencer, a spokesman for the court.
The case could yield the first deposition of Mr. Trump since he took office in January 2017, compelling him to testify about his behavior during the period of time in 2007 and 2008 when he and Ms. Zervos were in contact, as well as during his first campaign.
Ms. Zervos moved to dismiss Mr. Trump’s appeal the day he left office, her lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, said.
“Now as a private citizen, the defendant has no further excuse to delay justice from Ms. Zervos and we are eager to get back to the trial court and prove her claims,” Ms. Wilkinson said.
Mr. Trump might also be compelled to testify, under oath, about his responses to other accusations of sexual misconduct.
“There are many other similar allegations made against former President Trump and his responses to them would appropriately be the subject of questioning,” said Kevin Mintzer, a lawyer who has represented several women in sexual misconduct cases. “I would expect he’s going to have to answer those questions.”
A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Marc Kasowitz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Zervos said that Mr. Trump had forced himself on her during a job interview at his office in Manhattan and at a hotel in Los Angeles. She was one of more than 10 women to accuse Mr. Trump of sexual misconduct during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In response to Ms. Zervos’s accusations, Mr. Trump said that he had never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately. He later described her story on Twitter, as well as those of others, as “made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED.” That comment and others like it prompted Ms. Zervos’s lawsuit.
Mr. Trump also faces a defamation claim from E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of raping her in the 1990s in a Manhattan department store. Ms. Carroll sued Mr. Trump for defamation in 2019 after he denied the allegations. The case is currently with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which will rule on whether a team of Justice Department lawyers can replace Mr. Trump’s private legal defense team. (The department has not yet dropped the motion under President Biden.)
Ms. Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, said that the only surprising thing about Tuesday’s decision in Ms. Zervos’s case was that it had taken so long.
“I would assume Summer Zervos looks forward to moving ahead with her case; I know that our client E. Jean Carroll feels that way,” she said.
Mr. Trump currently faces two criminal investigations. One is in Manhattan, where prosecutors are scrutinizing whether Mr. Trump and his company inflated or otherwise manipulated the value of its properties to obtain loans and tax benefits. The other is in Georgia, where there is an investigation into the former president’s attempt to persuade local officials to overturn the election results in the state.