President Donald Trump’s lawyers are asking for a case revolving around an allegation of groping by a former contestant on The Apprentice to be thrown out on the grounds of presidential immunity.
Summer Zervos says Trump kissed her on the mouth repeatedly, grabbed her breast, and thrust his genitals at her. Trump denies the claims, and the defamation suit is based on those denials, with Zervos claiming Trump’s denial of the incident amounts to his calling her a liar, thereby damaging her reputation.
Trump’s lawyers’ assertion that the president cannot be sued in a state court came in a filing submitted by Marc Kasowitz to New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer Schecter, Politico reports.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1997 in the sexual harassment case brought by Paula Jones against former president Bill Clinton, Clinton v. Jones, that the president was not immune from civil lawsuits while in office.
The Supreme Court decided that federal courts could be trusted to manage litigation brought against the president, but Trump’s legal team pointed out it left open the question of whether or not state courts could also be trusted.
“Clinton v. Jones recognized that if any civil suit against a sitting president were permitted to proceed, a federal court would be better positioned to handle such a matter given the threat of local prejudices, the lack of uniformity in states’ laws, and the federal courts’ expertise in handling federal immunity matters,” asserted Trump’s attorneys.
The $3,000 in damages being sought by Zervos is under the $75,000 threshold required to move such litigation to federal court.
Kasowitz, along with the rest of Trump’s legal team, further pointed to criticism of the Clinton v. Jones ruling, much of it, as Politico notes, coming from liberal sources, in arguing that if this case is allowed to proceed it will interfere with the president’s ability to carry out his duties.
The filing also questions Zervos’ motivations, as well as those of her attorney, Gloria Allred.
“Ms. Zervos and her counsel have openly conceded — indeed, bragged — that their true motivation is to use this action for political purposes as a pretext to obtain broad discovery that they hoped could be used in impeachment hearings to distract from the President’s agenda,” Kasowitz wrote in the motion, filed on Friday night.
An April filing from Zervos’ attorneys dismissed any presidential immunity claim.
“Precisely because Defendant’s underlying tortious behavior has nothing to do with his current duties or office, and because it occurred before he took that office, he does not have immunity from suit,” her attorneys wrote. “No person is above the law in this country and that includes the President of the United States.”
Kasowitz is Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, and is leading a team defending him against allegations of collusion with Russia. Kasowitz has also represented Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as a business partner of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.