NEW YORK — A New York state judge ruled Tuesday that a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who has said President Donald Trump made unwanted sexual advances could go forward, raising the possibility of a public airing of other allegations of sexual misconduct against the president.
The decision by Justice Jennifer Schecter of state Supreme Court in Manhattan paved the way for lawyers to seek depositions from several women who accused Trump of sexual harassment before he was elected and to subpoena Trump campaign records related to his female accusers.
Schecter rejected Trump’s argument that a state court has no jurisdiction over a sitting president. She cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed Paula Jones to bring a sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton.
“No one is above the law,” Schecter wrote. “It is settled that the president of the United States has no immunity and is ‘subject to the laws’ for purely private acts.”
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Summer Zervos, is a former contestant on Trump’s show “The Apprentice.” In her complaint, she said Trump defamed her during the 2016 presidential campaign by repeatedly describing her accounts, and those of other accusers, as “total lies” and “made up nonsense to steal the election” — potentially for fame or financial gain.
Besides arguing that the president could not be sued in state court under the Supremacy Clause, Trump’s lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, had argued that Trump’s comments about the women, made during a hard-fought election, amounted to political speech protected under the First Amendment. He also had argued that Zervos was not held up to the level of ridicule or contempt necessary to prove defamation.
Schecter disagreed. She said Trump’s comments about Zervos telling “phony stories” could be construed as defamatory, suggesting she “is contemptible because she ‘fabricated’ events for personal gain.”