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‘Apprentice’ contestant’s lawsuit against Trump can resume, N.Y. court says

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/30/2021 Shayna Jacobs

NEW YORK —The New York State Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that a defamation case against former president Donald Trump, brought by an "Apprentice" contestant who alleged he sexually assaulted her years ago, can go forward as the immunity claim he raised while in office no longer applies.

In a brief order, the state’s highest court said Trump’s appeal of a lower court decision denying his immunity status is now “moot” because he is no longer a sitting president. The defense was raised in the lawsuit brought by Summer Zervos and in other long-running cases still facing the former president.

“Defendant’s appeal should be dismissed, and this matter should be remanded for further proceedings,” the order says. Trump’s lawyer did not object to the dismissal.

[Trump presses immunity argument in Summer Zervos defamation case]

The lawsuit brought by Zervos, who in 2016 alleged that Trump forced himself on her in a Los Angeles hotel room a decade before, is expected to resume after a lengthy delay caused by Trump’s appeals.

Zervos sued Trump in 2017, alleging that Trump, who hosted the popular NBC reality show, smeared her when she came forward with the sexual assault allegation. In denying her claims, Trump said Zervos lied and suggested she was motivated by money.

Trump has vehemently denied Zervos’s account and allegations of sexual misconduct made by other women.

[Trump faces an onslaught of legal problems, as investigations and dozens of lawsuits trail him from Washington to Florida]

Marc Kasowitz, whose law firm represented Trump in the Zervos matter, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Zervos’s lawsuit is among a number of serious legal matters Trump faces upon reentry to civilian life. He also is being sued for defamation by writer and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who in 2019 accused Trump of raping her in a dressing room in the 1990s.

Carroll’s case is pending in federal court in Manhattan where it was transferred after the Justice Department under Trump tried to intervene on his behalf — a move that was rejected by a judge in the Southern District of New York. The ruling was appealed by the Justice Department before Trump left office in January, but it is unclear whether the appeal will be supported by the Biden administration.

[Judge rejects Justice Dept. bid to short-circuit defamation case brought by woman who accused Trump of rape]

Trump, his associates and his company also face criminal and civil investigations in New York focused on his business activities.

In addition, the former president is under scrutiny by criminal investigators in Georgia and by the D.C. attorney general related to his efforts to overturn last year’s election. Beyond that, he faces dozens of lawsuits that threaten him financially.

Last year, lawyers for Zervos argued that Trump’s immunity claim was baseless and hypocritical. At the time, they had told the court, he actively participated in other state court matters, including in lawsuits targeting unflattering media coverage.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July that, as president, Trump did not have immunity protecting him from a state court grand jury subpoena seeking his tax returns and related records in a criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. Vance’s investigators did not get the records until last month after another failed bid by Trump to challenge the subpoena.

a man and a woman looking at the camera: Former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos leaves New York state appellate court in 2018. © Mary Altaffer/AP Former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos leaves New York state appellate court in 2018.
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