A New York court has said that any sitting US president is still able to be tried in a state court, after Donald Trump sought to delay a defamation trial arising from a lawsuit filed by a former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos.
The reality TV contestant’s lawsuit claims that the President’s repeated denials of her sexual misconduct allegations are factual falsehoods that have subjected her to threats and cost her business at her Southern California restaurant.
Ms Zervos has repeatedly accused Mr Trump of kissing her against her will at a 2007 meeting in New York, and later groping her at a Beverly Hills hotel.
Mr Trump had earlier sought to dismiss the case entirely but failed.
In a 3-2 decision on Thursday, the Appellate Division in Manhattan said the US Constitution did not strip state courts of power to decide cases arising under state constitutions, even if they involved sitting presidents.
Despite his suggestion he embodied the executive branch and had significant responsibilities, “the President is still a person, and he is not above the law,” Justice Dianne Renwick wrote.
The dissenting judges said the lawsuit would interfere with Mr Trump’s job as President, and should wait until he left office.
One of them, Justice Angela Mazzarelli, said the “all-consuming nature of the presidency creates a constitutional barrier” against Ms Zervos’s lawsuit.
All five justices found Ms Zervos’s defamation claim legally sufficient, without ruling on its merits.
Mr Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz said the President would appeal to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, “which we expect will agree with the dissent”.
The decision affirmed a lower court ruling from last March.
Lawyers hope to cross-examine Trump
Ms Zervos first came forward in October 2016, the month before Mr Trump was elected, after an Access Hollywood recording showed the then-Republican candidate speaking in vulgar terms about women.
Mr Trump also republished on Twitter a post calling Zervos’ accusations a “hoax”.
The truth is a beautiful weapon. https://t.co/P7FrFhicvw
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2016
Mr Trump has denied Ms Zervos’s claims and called her case politically motivated.
Ms Zervos’s lawyers are hoping to question Mr Trump under oath about whether he defamed her by calling her a liar after she accused him of sexual misconduct.
“We look forward to proving to a jury that Ms Zervos told the truth about defendant’s unwanted sexual groping and holding him accountable for his malicious lies,” said Ms Zervos’s lawyer, Mariann Wang.
Paula Jones case led to Clinton impeachment
The appeals court called Ms Zervos’s case “materially indistinguishable” from former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones’s lawsuit accusing then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.
In 1997, the US Supreme Court let Ms Jones’s case go forward.
That paved the way for Mr Clinton’s impeachment the following year.
Mr Trump has also faced a defamation claim by adult film actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit over a hush money agreement.
That lawsuit was dismissed on March 7.