A panel of New York appeals judges has turned down President Donald Trump's request to halt a lawsuit filed by a former Apprentice contestant who claims Trump made unwelcome sexual advances on her and then disputed her account of the interactions.
Lawyers for Trump have argued that he should not have to respond to the suit from Summer Zervos because it was brought in state court and allowing the case to proceed could interfere with Trump's presidential duties.
However, on Thursday, five judges from the New York Supreme Court appellate division rejected Trump's bid to stay the case while he appeals on that issue.
The judges' order shed little light on their legal rationale.
"Upon reading and filing the papers with respect to the motion, and due deliberation having been had thereon, It is ordered that the motion is denied," the judges wrote.
Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, Zervos claimed that Trump groped her breast and repeatedly kissed her as she was seeking work opportunities a couple of years after being “fired” from “The Apprentice,” his reality TV show in 2005. She said she chose to speak out only after Trump’s recorded comments to “Access Hollywood” emerged and he denied a flurry of charges from more than a dozen women.
Trump also denied Zervos’ claim. Three days before Trump’s inauguration last year, Zervos sued for defamation, alleging that her reputation was damaged when he insisted that her allegations were false.
Trump's lawyers, led by attorney Marc Kasowitz, urged that the suit be tossed out or put on hold until after Trump leaves office.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that President Bill Clinton could be subject to a civil sexual harassment suit while in office. That case was in a federal court, while Zervos's was filed in state court in Manhattan. Kasowitz said allowing her case to proceed would give a state judge improper authority over the president.
In a March ruling, Judge Jennifer Schecter flatly disagreed, saying there was "absolutely no authority" for the Trump legal team's position.
The action by the appeals panel Thursday means the lawsuit can proceed and testimony could be demanded from Trump, unless Trump's lawyers can proceed New York's highest court, or a federal court, to step in.
Kasowitz issued a statement expressing disagreement with the ruling, but was vague on what steps Trump's lawyers plan to take next.
"Respectfully, the Appellate Division’s order denying a stay of the case pending the resolution of this key issue is incorrect. It is also completely and unjustifiably contrary to the stays the courts uniformly granted when deciding whether a lawsuit against President Clinton could proceed in federal court," Kasowitz said. "There is no valid reason in this case—in which plaintiff is seeking merely $3,000 in damages, and which plaintiff’s counsel has repeatedly insisted was brought for political purposes—for the Court not to grant the requested stay in order to take the time to first decide the threshold Constitutional issue that is at stake."
Zervos's attorneys, Gloria Allred and Mariann Wang, welcomed the decision.
"I am very happy with the court order permitting my former client, Summer Zervos, to proceed with discovery in her defamation case against President Trump," Allred said in an e-mail. "I think it is very important that President Trump provide answers in Summer’s civil defamation case through the discovery process a.s.a.p. 'Justice delayed is justice denied.'”
"We look forward to proving Ms. Zervos’s claim that Defendant lied when he maliciously attacked her for reporting his sexually abusive behavior," Wang added.
Lorraine Woellert contributed to this report.