NEW YORK (AP) — A judge will decide whether to toss a defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump by a former contestant on his reality TV show “The Apprentice” who accused him of unwanted sexual contact.
Summer Zervos was a contestant on the show in 2006 and sued the Republican after he dismissed as “fabricated and made-up charges” her claims that he made unwanted sexual contact with her at a Beverly Hills, California, hotel in 2007. Her lawsuit sought an apology and $2,914.
Trump’s lawyers argued in court papers that the U.S. Constitution immunizes him from being sued in state court while he’s president. The lawyers said their position is supported by a long line of U.S. Supreme Court cases requiring courts to show deference to the president and his schedule. They also argued his statements are protected by the First Amendment.
“Ms. Zervos cannot hold the President liable for engaging in political speech in the context of a public debate,” Trump’s lawyers argued.
Judge Jennifer Schecter was scheduled to hear oral arguments in Manhattan state Supreme Court on Tuesday. She will issue a ruling later.
In the waning days of the 2016 presidential election, Zervos and more than a dozen other women came forward to say that Trump had sexually assaulted or harassed them over the years. He denied it.
Zervos said at a press conference in October 2016 that after appearing on Trump’s show she asked him for a job. She said they met and he kissed her on the lips and asked for her phone number.
Zervos came forward with her allegations against Trump 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 video, which was recorded in 2005, Trump talks about forcing himself on women, kissing them and groping them. Trump apologized for his sexually charged comments after the video emerged.
Zervos filed a lawsuit in January. But since then, accusations of sexual misconduct against media mogul Harvey Weinstein by dozens of women started a tsunami of misconduct claims against powerful men in media, politics, business and the arts. “Today” show host Matt Lauer, PBS host Charlie Rose, comedian Louis C.K. and others have been felled by the accusations. Democratic Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, resigned on Tuesday.
Zervos’ lawyers subpoenaed Trump’s campaign, asking to preserve any records concerning Zervos or other women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Trump’s lawyers have suggested the claims were made up by Zervos’ attorney Gloria Allred, who they say was bent on getting “revenge” for his election. Allred, a Democratic activist, says she’s had no contact with Trump’s main election foe, Democrat Hillary Clinton, about the lawsuit.
Among the exhibits filed in the case: a dozen screenshots of Trump’s Twitter pages calling the claims made up and a New Yorker magazine article on Allred.
In October 2017, at a Rose Garden press conference, Trump again skewered the allegations.
“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.”
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