Law & the Courts

Judge Rules Trump Can Be Deposed in Apprentice Contestant’s Defamation Suit

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, leaves New York State Supreme Court after a hearing on the defamation case against then-President Donald Trump in New York, N.Y., December 5, 2017. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

On Monday, a New York State judge directed former President Trump to submit to questioning in a defamation lawsuit levied by a former contestant on The Apprentice, who accused him of sexual assault two years after the show’s end and then sued him for defamation when he publicly denied the allegation.

After Trump’s attorney confirmed that he would countersue the petitioner, Summer Zervos, Justice Jennifer Schecter instructed him to provide his out-of-court testimony.

Zervos had filed legal action against the former president in January 2017, but the case was not escalated because Trump’s role in public office shielded him from that kind of litigation. Following Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, he became a private citizen no longer immune to lawsuits, New York’s highest court determined in March.

After the countersuit was launched, Trump’s new lawyer, Alina Habba, said the trial court “made its position clear today – Ms. Zervos must comply with the court’s directive and produce all relevant and outstanding discovery. In the meantime, we will be vigorously defending the President against this frivolous lawsuit.”

Now, both Trump and Zervos must complete depositions by a December 23 deadline.

During the 2016 campaign, Zervos accused Trump of unwanted kissing and groping when she consulted him for career advice in 2007.

When Trump rejected the claims on Twitter, Zervos sued, seeking a retraction or an apology as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

New York’s “anti-SLAPP” law, which stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” enables individuals accused of defamation to counter sue as an additional free speech protection, in order to discourage frivolous lawsuits against defendants who take public political stances.

On the 2016 campaign trail, allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Trump and his opponent were brought forth by multiple women, such as Tara Reade, who used to work in Biden’s Senate office, and former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, who sued Trump after he denied having raped her.

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