'Apprentice' contestant's lawsuit against Trump goes to top New York court

A 2017 photo shows Summer Zervos appearing in the New York State Supreme Court during a hearing on a defamation case against US President Donald Trump.
A 2017 photo shows Summer Zervos appearing in the New York State Supreme Court during a hearing on a defamation case against US President Donald Trump.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - New York state's highest court will consider whether US President Donald Trump must face a defamation lawsuit by a former contestant on The Apprentice, in a showdown that could help determine whether Mr Trump can be sued while in the White House.

The Appellate Division in Manhattan, an intermediate-level court, on Tuesday (Jan 7) granted Mr Trump permission to ask the state Court of Appeals to review whether its 3-2 decision last March allowing Ms Summer Zervos to sue him was correct.

In that decision, the majority said the US Constitution did not strip state courts of power to decide cases arising under state Constitutions, even if they involved sitting presidents, and that Mr Trump was "not above the law".

The dissenting judges said the case would interfere with Mr Trump's presidency and could wait until he left office.

A spokesman for Mr Trump's law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres said: "We believe that the Court of Appeals will agree that the US Constitution bars state court actions while the President is in office."

A lawyer for Ms Zervos, Ms Beth Wilkinson, said: "We remain confident that we will prove her defamation claim in court and that Mr Trump will face responsibility for his actions."

Mr Trump has argued in a variety of litigation that he is immune from lawsuits and investigations, including criminal proceedings, while in office.

The US Supreme Court is expected to decide, likely by the end of June, whether Mr Trump can block subpoenas by Congress and New York state prosecutors for his financial records.

Ms Zervos, a 2005 contestant on Mr Trump's reality television show The Apprentice, accused the president in a 2017 lawsuit of defamation for calling her a liar after she accused him of sexual misconduct.

She has said Mr Trump kissed her against her will at a 2007 meeting in New York and later groped her at a Beverly Hills, California, hotel.

Mr Trump has denied her claims and those of several other women who accused him of sexual misconduct.

Ms Zervos' effort to question Mr Trump under oath will remain on hold during the appeals process.

In its decision, the Appellate Division majority found Ms Zervos' case "materially indistinguishable" from former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones' lawsuit accusing then president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

The Supreme Court let that case go forward in 1997, helping pave the way for Mr Clinton's impeachment the following year.

Mr Trump is expected to soon face trial in the Republican-led US Senate, after the Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached him on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.