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'Apprentice' contestant's Trump defamation suit can proceed

Thursday, March 14, 2019

NEW YORK (AP) — A former contestant on "The Apprentice" who accused President Donald Trump of unwanted kissing and groping can move forward with her defamation lawsuit against him, a state appeals court ruled today, raising the prospect that a sitting president could be called for sworn questioning.

A panel of judges on the Supreme Court Appellate Division said in their ruling, in a case brought by Summer Zervos, that the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution doesn't require trials in state court to be delayed until the president is out of office.

Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling two decades ago in a case involving alleged sexual misconduct by President Bill Clinton, a majority of judges on the panel said presidents can be sued in state courts over things they did that aren't related to their official duties.

"The current sitting President attempts to shield himself from consequences for his alleged unofficial misconduct by relying upon the constitutional protection of the Presidency," the judges said in an opinion written by Justice Dianne T. Renwick. "We reject defendant President Trump's argument that the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution prevents a New York State court – and every other state court in the country – from exercising its authority under its state constitution. Instead, we find that the Supremacy Clause was never intended to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases and controversies under the state's constitution."

The decision, which increases the prospect that Trump could have to sit for sworn questioning in the lawsuit, was not unanimous.

Two of the five justices on the panel, Peter Tom and Angela M. Mazzarelli, said in a dissent, written by Justice Mazzarelli, that subjecting the president to a state trial court's jurisdiction "interferes with his ability to carry out his constitutional duty of executing the laws of the United States."

Trump's lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, said he planned to appeal to New York's highest court.