NEW YORK (AP) — A defamation lawsuit brought by a former contestant on “The Apprentice” who accused President Donald Trump of unwanted sexual contact can move forward while he is in office, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Jennifer Schecter wrote that “no one is above the law” in siding with Summer Zervos, who sued the Republican after he dismissed as “fabricated” and “made-up” her claims of misconduct at a Beverly Hills, California, hotel in 2007. Her lawsuit seeks an apology and at least $2,914.
Trump’s lawyers had argued the U.S. Constitution immunized him from being sued in state court while he’s president and had argued the case should at least be delayed until he’s out of office. They said their position was supported by a long line of U.S. Supreme Court cases requiring courts to show deference to the president and his schedule.
The judge disagreed.
“Nothing in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution even suggests that the President cannot be called to account before a state court for wrongful conduct that bears no relationship to any federal executive responsibility,” she wrote.
Trump’s legal team said they would appeal and ask the case be put on hold until a final decision is reached.
“We disagree with this decision, which is wrong as a matter of Constitutional law,” attorney Marc Kasowitz said in a statement.
It’s unclear whether Trump would have to appear at any of the proceedings, but Zervos’ lawyers have said they would depose him. The judge asked during arguments in December whether video conferencing and other methods could be used to accommodate the president’s busy schedule.
Zervos attorney Mariann Wang said “sound reason” prevailed.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to prove that that defendant falsely branded Ms. Zervos a phony for telling the truth about his unwanted sexual groping,” she said in a statement.
Near the end of the presidential race, Zervos and more than a dozen other women came forward to say Trump had sexually assaulted or harassed them.
Zervos said that after appearing on Trump’s show in 2006 she asked him for a job. She said they met and he kissed her on the lips and asked for her phone number. He denied it.
She came forward with the allegations shortly after publication of an “Access Hollywood” video that featured audio of Trump bragging about how he grabs women’s genitals and gets away with it. On the 2005 video, Trump talks about forcing himself on women, kissing them and groping them. Trump apologized for his sexually charged comments after the video emerged.
She sued in January last year. Trump again skewered the allegations at a Rose Garden press conference last October.
“All I can say is it’s totally fake news — just fake. It’s fake, it’s made-up stuff. And it’s disgraceful what happens,” he said. “That happens in the world of politics.”