January 7, 2020 / 9:12 PM / a month ago

'Apprentice' contestant's lawsuit against Trump goes to top New York court

NEW YORK, Jan 7 (Reuters) - New York state’s highest court will consider whether U.S. President Donald Trump must face a defamation lawsuit by a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” in a showdown that could help determine whether Trump can be sued while in the White House.

The state Court of Appeals was asked on Tuesday by the Appellate Division in Manhattan, an intermediate-level court, to review whether its 3-2 decision last March allowing former contestant Summer Zervos to sue Trump was correct.

Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer for Trump, had no immediate comment. Beth Wilkinson, a lawyer for Zervos, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump has argued in a variety of litigation that he is immune from lawsuits and investigations, including criminal proceedings, while in office.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to review Trump’s position in deciding, likely by the end of June, whether Trump can block subpoenas by Congress and New York state prosecutors for his financial records.

Zervos, a 2005 contestant on Trump’s reality television show “The Apprentice,” accused the president in a 2017 lawsuit of defaming her by calling her a liar after she accused him of sexual misconduct. She has said Trump kissed her against her will at a 2007 meeting in New York and later groped her at a Beverly Hills hotel.

Trump has denied the claims of Zervos and several other women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.

In its decision last March, New York’s Appellate Division said the U.S. Constitution did not strip state courts of power to decide cases arising under state constitutions, even if they involved sitting presidents. The majority concluded that while Trump had significant responsibilities, he was “not above the law.”

It also found Zervos’ case “materially indistinguishable” from former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones’ lawsuit accusing then-President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. The U.S. Supreme Court let that case go forward in 1997, paving the way for Clinton’s impeachment the following year.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-led House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He is expected to soon face trial in the Republican-led U.S. Senate.

The dissenting judges in Zervos’ case said her lawsuit would interfere with Trump’s presidency and should wait until he has left office.

Zervos has sought to question Trump under oath about her claims. That effort will remain on hold during the appeals process. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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