By Jonathan Stempel
NEWYORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has asked New York state’s highest court to delay a defamation lawsuit by a former contestant on his reality television show “The Apprentice” who said he sexually harassed her, claiming immunity and denying the allegations.
Trump is challenging a March 20 ruling by Justice Jennifer Schecter of State Supreme Court in Manhattan allowing the case to proceed. A preliminary conference before Schecter is scheduled for June 5, court records show.
In a filing on Monday, Trump told the state’s Court of Appeals that the lawsuit by Summer Zervos should be put on hold because a sitting U.S. president is immune from being sued in a state court during his term in the White House.
In another filing late Tuesday night, Trump formally answered the complaint and again denied the allegations and said he did not have enough knowledge or information about a particular allegation “to form a belief.”
Saying “no one is above the law,” Schecter rejected Trump’s claim of immunity over private conduct predating his becoming president.
An intermediate state appeals court on May 17 refused to halt Zervos’ lawsuit, without ruling on its merits.
Trump said that refusal qualified as a “final appealable order” justifying intervention by the Court of Appeals.
Zervos’ lawyer, Mariann Wong, said, the “defendant has lost his effort to stay this action twice already, and for good reason. No one is above the law.
“We look forward to proving (the) defendant lied when he attacked Ms. Zervos for telling the truth about his unwanted sexual groping,” Wong said in an email.
Zervos accused Trump of subjecting her to unwanted kissing and groping after she sought career advice in 2007.
She came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Trump called such allegations by women “lies.” He also retweeted a post calling Zervos’ claims a “hoax.”
Zervos said Trump defamed her by branding her a liar. She is seeking a retraction or an apology, compensatory damages and punitive damages in her lawsuit.
In addition to presidential immunity, Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz argued the alleged defamatory statements were also “privileged or protected by one or more immunities, including, but not limited to, under the Constitution of the United States,” among other defenses.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jeffrey Benkoe)