Trump argues immunity before New Yorks highest court in defamation lawsuit

A brief claims state courts can’t exercise control over a current president.

Donald Trump’s lawyers are arguing before New York’s highest court that the president is immune from a defamation lawsuit brought by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos.

In a court brief dated May 8, Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz questioned “whether state courts are authorized under the Constitution to hear cases against a sitting President in the first place.”

Zervos has alleged Trump groped and kissed her without her consent in a Los Angeles hotel room in 2007.

Zervos filed the defamation suit in 2017, three days before Trump’s inauguration. The suit alleges Trump made defamatory statements about her while on the campaign trail, and that he repeatedly accused her and other women who made similar allegations of lying.

“To be clear, I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago,” Trump said regarding Zervos in a 2016 statement. “That is not who I am as a person, and it is not how I’ve conducted my life.”

The president previously has argued unsuccessfully in lower state courts that the state had no jurisdiction over him to hear Zervos’ defamation case. In March 2019, a New York appellate court rejected the president’s assertion that he cannot be sued in state court, ruling that the defamation lawsuit could proceed.

Earlier this year, appeals judges granted Trump permission to appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

The May 8 brief from Trump’s lawyer argues that state courts can’t “exercise any control … over the President while he or she is in office.”

In a court brief dated March 24, Zervos’ lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, argued that there is no reason the state shouldn’t hear the suit, and that there is a “long tradition of state courts exercising jurisdiction over federal officers whose unofficial acts violate state law.”

Trump’s lawyers also argued that the president has immunity from any investigation into his private business while he’s still in office in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court this week. On Tuesday, the justices debated the lawyers’ request to grant Trump “absolute immunity” from Congressional subpoenas for his financial records. The court is expected to have a decision on the case by the end of June.

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