Court weighs 'Apprentice' hopeful's suit versus Trump

October 18, 2018 - 12:01 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump's lawyers hope to persuade an appeals court to dismiss or delay a former "Apprentice" contestant's claim that he defamed her by calling her a liar after she accused him of unwanted kissing and groping.

Arguments are set for Thursday afternoon in a New York state appellate court weighing Summer Zervos' lawsuit. It concerns remarks Trump made as a candidate in 2016 after Zervos came forward to say he'd subjected her to unwanted advances nearly a decade earlier.

Trump's lawyers have argued the case shouldn't go forward, at least while he's in office. They also have said his comments were opinions he had a First Amendment right to express in the course of politics — an argument similar to one that got porn actress Stormy Daniels' defamation suit against Trump dismissed Monday by a federal judge in California.

"The statements (in the Zervos case) are nothing more than heated campaign rhetoric," Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz wrote in court papers last year.

Zervos' lawyers say Trump's words were factual falseholds that spurred threats and hurt business at her California restaurant, and that she deserves her day in court — now, not after his presidency.

"This case is not about robust political debate," as politicians don't have "a free pass to defame citizens who criticize them," Zervos lawyer Mariann Wang wrote in an August filing.

Zervos appeared on "The Apprentice" in 2006, when Trump was the reality show's host. She says she met with him twice the next year, seeking career advice but getting unwelcomed kisses and groping.

She went public with her allegation after an "Access Hollywood" recording emerged in October 2016 of Trump boasting about groping women.

Trump denied Zervos' claims and retweeted a message calling them "a hoax."

He also launched broadsides on Twitter and on rally stages against all the dozen-plus women who broached sexual misconduct claims against him around that same time, calling them "liars" peddling "totally made-up nonsense to steal the election," among other comments.

Zervos is seeking a retraction, an apology and compensatory and punitive damages.

Like Trump, she is a Republican.