Donald Trump this week signaled in his tweets and comments that he believes he is above the law, and if necessary, can use his powers as president to pardon himself.
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A New York State Judge ruled today that in fact, “no one is above the law,” as she denied Trump’s request to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought by a former “Apprentice” contestant after his lawyers argued he was too busy running the country to be subject to a civil lawsuit.
Summer Zervos, who is represented by bulldog attorney Gloria Allred, filed her lawsuit in January 2017 just days before Trump was sworn in as president.
After Trump accused Allred, who also represents other women who claim Trump sexually molested them, of having ties to the Hillary Clinton for president campaign, the crusading California attorney called Trump a “fourth-rate politician and a fifth-rate human.”
Judge Jennifer Schecter rules Zervos' defamation lawsuit against Trump will move forward and sets deadlines for discovery. Depositions of all parties should be completed by Jan. 31, 2019.
— Mary Ann Georgantopoulos (@marygeorgant) June 5, 2018
Zervos, who appeared on the NBC series which starred Trump in 2006, claims that in 2007 while she was meeting with Trump about a possible job opportunity she had been subjected to unwanted sexual touching and kissing by Trump.
She chose not to go public with her claims at the time but did tell friends and family about it.
When a dozen other women came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign, shortly after the infamous Access Hollywood tape was made public in which Trump was heard saying he was so famous he was free to grope any woman, and other women with similar claims of sexual harassment by Trump came forward, Zervos also went public.
Trump then denied in speeches and interviews that the claims by Zervos and other women were true and said it was just part of a political attack on him.
On Nov. 11, 2016, Zevos called on Trump to retract his statements that she was a liar.
Two months later, when there was no retraction by Trump, she filed her lawsuit.
Even then she offered to dismiss her case if he would “simply retract his false and defamatory statements about me and acknowledge that I told the truth about him.”
“Please understand that you will not intimidate me,” she said in a statement after the suit was filed. “Others who are smarter, richer and more famous than you have tried and failed.”
In making her ruling today, New York State Judge Jennifer Schecter cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Paula Jones’ lawsuit against then-President Bill Clinton which allowed the case involving “unofficial acts” to proceed in federal court while he was president.
In her 18-page decision today, Schecter wrote that the rules are no different for cases brought in state court.
“Nothing in the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution even suggests that the President cannot be called to account before a state court for wrongful conduct that bears no relationship to any federal executive responsibility,” wrote Schecter.
The judge, saying Zervos has a defamation claim that could succeed, added that there are “no compelling reasons for delaying plaintiff’s day in court here.”
Schecter also wrote that Trump’s statements can be proven to be true or false.
She wrote that Trump’s “repeated statements – which were not made through op-ed pieces or letters to the editor but rather were delivered in speeches, debates and through Twitter, a preferred means of communication often used by defendant – cannot be characterized simply as op9iinion, heated rhetoric or hyperbole.”
Schecter also set January 31, 2019, as the date all discovery in the case must be completed.
Trump’s lawyers continue to argue the Zervos case should be put on hold at least until they can get a ruling from New York State’s highest court or the U.S. Supreme Court, but Schecter has decided otherwise.
Trump and his lawyers were rejected when they filed an emergency plea to the New York Appeals Court last month to shut down Zervos’s legal action.
Trump’s lawyers have also said they will act to stop other women who accused Trump of improper sexual contact from being allowed to testify in the Zervos case.
Mariann Wang, another lawyer representing Zervos, said after the ruling that the “rule of law and sound reason have prevailed,” adding that “We are grateful for the opportunity to prove that Defendant falsely branded Ms. Zervos as phony for telling the truth about his unwanted sexual groping.”
The important point is that a judge has ruled that Trump is not above the law any more than any other American.
It is also the case that while Trump can grant a presidential pardon in federal cases, he cannot pardon those found guilty in a state court.
Trump may think he can grab women “by the pussy,” as he said on the Access Hollywood tape, but that does not include the grand lady who upholds America’s scales of justice.