NEW YORK — A court Tuesday froze a former “Apprentice” contestant’s lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s response to her sexual assault allegations, a defamation case now headed to New York’s highest court.
The decision, by a midlevel state appeals court, holds off further proceedings in Summer Zervos’ suit until the top-level Court of Appeals decides whether to dismiss it or delay it through his presidency. Trump had been due to undergo sworn pretrial questioning by Jan. 31.
Trump’s lawyers at Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP said they were pleased with the ruling.
“We believe that the Court of Appeals will agree that the U.S. Constitution bars state court actions while the president is in office,” the firm said in a statement.
Zervos attorney Beth Wilkinson said she also looked forward to arguing the case at the high court.
“We remain confident that we will prove her defamation claim in court and that Mr. Trump will face responsibility for his actions,” Wilkinson said in a statement.
Zervos, a California restaurateur, appeared on “The Apprentice” when Trump hosted the show in 2006. She alleges the then-businessman subjected her to unwanted kissing and groping when she sought career advice on two occasions in 2007.
She says he defamed her by calling her a liar when she came forward publicly during his 2016 presidential campaign. Both he and she are Republicans.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that his statements weren’t defamatory and that the case should be postponed until after his presidency or dismissed altogether.
The midlevel appeals court ruled against Trump in a 3-2 decision in March, but on Monday gave him permission to take the case higher.
Zervos was among more than a dozen women who came forward during Trump’s 2016 campaign to accuse him of sexual assault or sexual harassment over the years.
Trump called them “liars” trying to harm him with “100 per cent fabricated” stories. He also issued a statement denying Zervos’ allegations and retweeted a message calling them “a hoax.”
Zervos is seeking a retraction, an apology and damages.