President Trump can't delay lawsuit from 'Apprentice' contestant

Summer Zervos -- Photo: CNN
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NEW YORK (AP) — Former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos can proceed with her defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump, at least for now, a New York court said Thursday.

The ruling by the Supreme Court's appellate division means Zervos' lawyers can press ahead with a demand for Trump campaign documents and other records while they await another appeals court decision that is likely months away.

Trump's lawyers had asked to put the case on ice until the same appeals court decides whether to dismiss it or postpone it past his presidency. That's likely to take at least until fall.

"We look forward to proving Ms. Zervos's claim that (the) defendant lied when he maliciously attacked her for reporting his sexually abusive behavior," said her lawyer, Mariann Wang.

Trump's lawyer in the case, Marc Kasowitz, said there was "no valid reason" for the court to deny the stay while it decided the underlying issue of whether a private citizen can sue a sitting president in a state court.

"Respectfully, the Appellate Division's order denying a stay of the case pending the resolution of this key issue is incorrect," he said.

Zervos, a California restaurateur, appeared on Trump's former show, "The Apprentice," in 2006. She says he subjected her to unwanted groping and kisses when she sought career advice in 2007.

Trump has denied her allegations, which she first made publicly during his campaign in 2016. At one point, he retweeted a message that included her photo and described her claims as a "hoax."

Zervos's suit doesn't claim sexual harassment; the legal time clock for such a case ran out years ago. Instead, she's suing Trump for calling her a liar, saying it hurt her reputation.

She's seeking a retraction, an apology and compensatory and punitive damages.

As part of their case, her lawyers are pursuing a range of information about Trump's behavior and comments about women.

The attorneys have issued a subpoena for any unaired "Apprentice" footage that features Zervos or Trump talking about her or discussing other female contestants in a sexual or inappropriate way.

Zervos's lawyers also are seeking Trump campaign documents concerning not only Zervos but any woman who has accused Trump of inappropriate touching, as well as any campaign records referring to the release of a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape in which Trump boasted about grabbing women.

Zervos's attorneys have also indicated they want to question the president under oath.

Trump's attorneys have said that his remarks were "non-defamatory opinions."

Their efforts to get the case thrown out, or at least held off until he's out of office, have been unsuccessful so far. A Manhattan judge denied the request in March, saying "no one is above the law." But they are poised to make their arguments in appellate court this fall.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that President Bill Clinton wasn't immune from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him in a federal court, but left undecided the issue of whether a president could be sued in a state court.

Kasowitz said the New York appeals court's decision to deny a stay was "completely and unjustifiably contrary to the stays the courts uniformly granted" as Clinton's case moved through the courts.