'No one is above the law': Trump loses bid to dismiss defamation lawsuit by 'Apprentice' contestant who says he groped her

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump lost his effort to get a defamation suit against him filed by former "Apprentice" Summer Zervos dismissed by a New York State court.
  • Zervos claimed Trump had defamed her by branding her a liar after she went public with claims right before the 2016 presidential election that he had sexually assaulted her in 2007.
  • The judge in the case cited the Supreme Court's decision that allowed a lawsuit by former Arkansas employee Paula Jones against then-President Bill Clinton to proceed.
Summer Zervos during a news conference announcing the filing of a lawsuit against President-elect Donald Trump in Los Angeles, January 17, 2017.
Mike Blake | Reuters

A New York state judge Tuesday said "no one is above the law" as she denied President Donald Trump's request to dismiss a defamation lawsuit by a former "Apprentice" contestant who claims he sexually groped her.

Manhattan Court Justice Jennifer Schecter's decision, which allows the suit by Summer Zervos to proceed, rejected Trump's argument that a sitting president cannot be subject to a state court's jurisdiction.

Schecter cited the U.S. Supreme Court case that found a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of exposing himself to her, could proceed when Clinton was in the White House.

Clinton's lies under oath during a deposition in that case led to him being impeached by the House of Representatives, although the Senate ended up acquitting him at trial.

"It is settled that the President of the United States has no immunity and is 'subject to the laws' for purely private acts," Schecter wrote in her ruling.

"No one is above the law."

In addition to rejecting the motion for dismissal by Trump, Schechter also denied a request that she suspend Zervos's lawsuit until after Trump leaves office.

The ruling could have broader implications for Trump than Zervos' case alone.

At least 10 other women accused Trump of unwanted groping or kissing during the 2016 campaign, some of the allegations dating back decades. Trump called them all liars using campaign speeches, personal tweets and official statements.

Zervos's lawyer, Mariann Wang, in an emailed statement said, "The rule of law and sound reason have prevailed today."

"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."

Marc Kasowitz, Trump's lawyer, in his own emailed statement, said, "We disagree with this decision, which is wrong as a matter of Constitutional law. We intend to immediately appeal and will seek a stay of the case until this issue is finally determined."

Kasowitz in December had argued that Trump's comments were protected political speech, and that a "state court can't exercise any control over the president under any circumstances."

The White House had no immediate comment on the case.

Christopher Brennan, a former Manhattan prosecutor who currently represents plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases, told CNBC that the prior ruling involving Jones and Clinton leaves little or no argument over the question of whether a sitting president can face a civil claim in a state court.

Zervos sued Trump last year for defamation, claiming he slandered her when had branded as false her claims that he had manhandled her against her will.

She had gone public with her allegations in October 2016, right before the presidential election, saying Trump had sexually assaulted her in 2007. That was a year after Zervos appeared as a contestant on Trump's NBC show, "The Apprentice."

Trump on the heels of Zervos' allegations said that she and other women who claimed he had molested them were liars.

"These allegations are 100 percent false ... They are made up, they never happened," Trump said at a North Carolina campaign rally, according to the ruling issued Tuesday.

"It's not hard to find a small handful of people willing to make false smears for personal fame, who knows for financial reasons, political purposes, or for the simple reason they want to stop our movement," Trump had said.

In her decision, Justice Schechter said Trump's statements "weigh heavily against dismissal of the complaint."

She noted that Trump had "repeatedly accused [Zervos] of dishonesty not just in his opinion but as a matter of fact."

Schechter said that put Zervos at risk of being believed to be "contemptible" by someone who read or heard Trump's remarks.

"That defendant's statements about plaintiff's veracity were made while he was campaigning to become President of the United States, does not make them any less actionable," the judge wrote.

The judge said that Trump's labeling of the allegations by Zervos and other women as "100 percent false" and "phony stories" and "fiction" fit the basic parameters required for a defamation lawsuit.

Read the judge's decision denying President Trump's motion to dismiss a defamation lawsuit here: