Political News

Trump pushes to delay defamation suit by E. Jean Carroll

Posted March 4, 2020 1:19 p.m. EST

— A lawyer for Donald Trump argued in a New York courtroom Wednesday that a defamation lawsuit filed against the President by longtime magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll should be delayed until a state appeals court rules in another, similar case on the question of whether the state courts have jurisdiction over him while he occupies the White House.

"If the court does not stay this action, the President will suffer irreparable harm," said Trump attorney Christine Montenegro during oral arguments in New York state Supreme Court.

But a lawyer for Carroll argued that Trump shouldn't be allowed to delay the case in light of the fact that he has both continued to handle other cases as a defendant while serving as President and has also continued to file lawsuits. Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, pointed to a lawsuit filed last week by the Trump campaign against the New York Times.

"Here, we have a President who is not only defending cases where he is not asserting this immunity, but, as I just noted, he has actually brought cases as a plaintiff," Kaplan told Justice Verna Saunders. Carroll, sitting a few feet away in court, nodded her head as her lawyer spoke.

"That kind of cherry picking, your honor, is an intolerable abuse of the process," Kaplan said.

She added that due to the appeals court schedule, the other pending case likely wouldn't be decided until after the summer, and possibly not until after the presidential election in November.

The judge said she would file a written decision. She gave no time frame for the decision.

Carroll, an advice columnist who wrote for years for Elle Magazine, alleged in a lawsuit filed in November that Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room at luxury Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s. Trump has repeatedly denied the allegation, saying that he "never met this person in my life."

Trump has already faced one setback in the Carroll case. In January, a judge denied his effort to dismiss Carroll's lawsuit by arguing his residency in Washington should preclude him from being sued in New York.

Carroll's case came in the wake of a similar defamation case filed by a former contestant on "The Apprentice," Summer Zervos, a matter that is now being considered by the court of appeals, New York's highest court.

On Wednesday, Montenegro told the judge that the Zervos appeal would address "exactly the same issue pending before this court": whether a state court has jurisdiction while a President is in office.

Montenegro said the outcome of the Zervos case would impact not only Trump, but also future presidents, and that it would be futile to allow the Carroll case to proceed before knowing the resolution of the Zervos appeal.

In January, attorneys for Carroll served an attorney for Trump with papers requesting a sample of his DNA to compare with male genetic material found on the black Donna Karan dress she says she wore during the alleged encounter at Bergdorf's. That request was put on hold in the wake of an order from the judge that halted discovery requests until the motion to stay the case has been decided.

On Wednesday, Carroll's lawyer told the judge that should her client's case be allowed to move forward before an appellate ruling in the Zervos case, Carroll would agree to hold off both on the DNA sample request and on taking Trump's deposition until after a decision is filed in the Zervos matter.

A subpoena has also been served on Bergdorf Goodman, Kaplan said, but the store said it expects to be able to produce "very few" documents.

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Carroll said she hoped her lawsuit would resonate with others.

"I just want to say, I'm filing this lawsuit not just for myself, but for every woman in America who's been grabbed, groped, harassed, sexually assaulted -- and has spoken up and still has been disgraced, shamed or fired."

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