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Trump appeals judge’s decision to let Summer Zervos defamation case proceed

President Trump speaks at the White House last month. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Attorneys for President Trump said this week that they are appealing a New York judge's decision to allow a former “Apprentice” contestant’s defamation lawsuit against him to proceed.

They filed the appeal less than two weeks after New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer G. Schecter rejected attempts by Trump's attorneys to block Summer Zervos's lawsuit, one of multiple legal cases the president is facing. Trump's attorneys argued that Schecter's ruling was mistaken in not dismissing or at least temporarily staying the case.

Zervos had accused Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign of groping her years earlier, charges he denied. Days before Trump took office, Zervos filed a defamation suit, after he said all of the women accusing him of unwanted sexual contact were lying. Trump's attorneys have argued that he was expressing a political opinion and that he cannot be sued in state court while president.

Judge rules defamation case against Trump may proceed

In her opinion released March 20, Schecter rebuffed their arguments, writing, “No one is above the law.” She cited court precedent that ultimately led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1998 in finding that “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal court for unofficial acts.” She also denied a request that the case be stayed while Trump is in office and wrote that Trump’s comments calling Zervos a liar “cannot be characterized simply as opinion, heated rhetoric or hyperbole.”

Trump's attorneys, in their filing Sunday, reiterated some of their earlier arguments in appealing the case, including that the president is outside the jurisdiction of a state court and that Schecter “erred in denying a temporary stay of proceedings ... because without a stay, this action will” impair Trump's abilities to fulfill his constitutional obligations.

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” said Jan. 17, 2017, that she had filed a defamation lawsuit against President Trump. (Video: Reuters)

His attorneys also wrote that Zervos and her lawyers “have stated repeatedly that the true object of this lawsuit is political” and said Trump's “statements were non-defamatory opinions made in quintessentially political forums during a political campaign that fall under the highest, core protections of the First Amendment.”

Mariann Meier Wang, Zervos's attorney, said Monday, “We believe the court’s well-reasoned decision will be upheld, and look forward to proving Ms. Zervos’s claim.”

An appeal from Trump's attorneys was expected, and the notice filed this week is just a preliminary step. Court documents show that the appeal will probably not be heard before September.

David Ferstendig, an expert on legal procedure in New York, said that based on his experience, he thinks a decision could be reached in about 30 to 60 days once the appeal is heard.

“I don’t see them sitting on it,” he said.

Playmate, porn star and reality-TV contestant in court over Trump

Michael Martin, a professor at the Fordham University School of Law, said that “it is almost always to the defendant’s advantage to try to delay” a case. He described Trump as “somebody who has all kinds of incentives not to want to get to a resolution — or even to get to the discovery.”

The defendant can ask the judge – in this case Schecter -- to stay the discovery process, and if she denies that request, take it to the appellate court which can overrule her, according to Stephen Gillers of New York University Law School.

Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the filing.

Zervos last week shifted her legal representation, with Gloria Allred, a prominent women's rights lawyer who had been representing Zervos, saying she was withdrawing from the case. Zervos said in a statement last week that she chose to split with Allred, describing it as a choice made “purely for personal reasons.” Allred, in her own statement, said the withdrawal had no connection with the case's merits.

When Zervos made her public allegations against Trump in October 2016, she spoke at a news conference alongside Allred, who has also represented some of the other women who have accused Trump of unwanted sexual contact. Allred said she continues to represent these other women. Wang, who had been Allred’s New York-based co-counsel in Zervos's case, said she will continue to represent the former “Apprentice” contestant.

Trump is also confronting legal and political headaches in cases involving adult-film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, both of whom have filed lawsuits seeking the rights to tell their stories publicly. Meanwhile, multiple legal teams are seeking to peek inside the Trump Organization's books and records.

Further reading:

Lawyer Gloria Allred withdraws from Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against Trump

From Mueller to Stormy to ‘emoluments,’ Trump’s business is under siege

Judge denies Stormy Daniels’s bid to expedite case against Trump over confidential agreement