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Former ‘Apprentice’ contestant Summer Zervos ends defamation lawsuit against Trump

Summer Zervos leaves Manhattan Supreme Court at the conclusion of a December 2017 hearing.
Summer Zervos leaves Manhattan Supreme Court at the conclusion of a December 2017 hearing. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos on Friday announced that she would drop her 2017 lawsuit alleging former president Donald Trump had defamed her by denying he had sexually assaulted her years earlier.

Zervos did not give a reason for ending the case, which had advanced far enough that attorneys were discussing when Trump might be questioned in a deposition.

Zervos’s attorneys said in a statement that she “no longer wishes to litigate against the defendant and has secured the right to speak freely about her experience.”

Her attorneys, Beth Wilkinson and Moira Penza, said she had received nothing from Trump in return for dropping the case.

Trump’s attorney in this case, Alina Habba, had recently sought to file a counterclaim against Zervos, saying Trump’s words were protected by a New York state law intended to protect free speech. The “anti-SLAPP” law — the acronym stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation — is intended to protect people from harassing lawsuits related to their participation in public life.

“She had no choice,” Habba said of Zervos, “as the facts unearthed in this matter made it abundantly clear that our client did nothing wrong.”

In a statement Friday evening, Trump said it was “incredibly important to fight for the truth and justice. Only victory can restore one’s reputation!”

Habba began representing the former president this fall, and previously filed a $100 million suit against Trump’s niece Mary L. Trump for allegedly violating the terms of a 2001 settlement by giving financial records to the New York Times. That suit also targeted the Times itself and three reporters; the newspaper called it “an attempt to silence independent news organizations” and pledged to fight in court.

In 2016, Zervos alleged that Trump forced himself on her in a Los Angeles hotel room a decade before. Her case against Trump, which was filed in New York Supreme Court in 2017, faced a lengthy series of delays when the former president asserted he was immune from such lawsuits while in office.

It was not until March 30, nearly two months after Trump left the White House, that the New York State Court of Appeals dismissed Trump’s appeal based on his immunity argument because it was moot.

The Zervos case recently seemed poised to go forward with the possibility of a Trump deposition by the end of the year. In a conference with the judge’s court attorney early last month, the parties were pushed to complete depositions before January. It was not immediately clear if Trump or Zervos had been deposed before reaching an agreement to end the case.

A similar New York defamation case brought against Trump by author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll was transferred to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan when the Justice Department moved to intervene on Trump’s behalf. Justice Department officials in the Biden administration are appealing a ruling that denied the department’s ability to represent the former president on the grounds that he was acting as a government employee when he made disparaging comments about Carroll.

Carroll’s attorneys on Friday said that their suit would continue. “E Jean Carroll has no intention of withdrawing her complaint against Donald Trump,” attorney Julie Fink said in a statement.

Also on Friday, a New York state judge dismissed a 2019 lawsuit filed against Trump’s company by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen had sought more than $1.9 million from Trump to cover legal bills, which he said resulted from his work for the company.

In his decision, Judge Joel M. Cohen wrote that Cohen’s case was undercut by two problems. First, his arguments relied heavily on oral agreements, which were canceled out by written agreements.

And, the judge wrote, much of the legal bills resulted from work done for Trump personally, for his 2016 campaign, or for the now-defunct Trump Foundation — “but not out of his service to the business of the Trump Organization, which is the only defendant in this case.”

Kimberly Benza, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, said in a statement that “Mr. Cohen’s attempts at self-enrichment . . . once again failed.”

“Having won this case, we now look forward to seeking monetary damages against Mr. Cohen for all of his despicable conduct,” Benza wrote.

Cohen’s attorneys declined to comment on the decision. Cohen previously pleaded guilty to campaign violations, financial crimes, and lying to Congress, and was sentenced in 2018 to three years in prison.

One bright side for Cohen: since he filed the suit, more than half of the outstanding legal bills were either paid by Trump’s company, or canceled by the law firms themselves, according to his lawyers.