An appellate court in NY ruled Thursday that a lawsuit by a former "Apprentice" contestant who accused President Trump of unwanted kisses and groping can proceed - shutting down claims by his lawyers that Trump is immune from defamation lawsuits while in office and raising the specter that he will have to sit for sworn questioning.
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, appears in New York State Supreme Court during a hearing on a defamation case against U.S. President Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 5, 2017. She was among the 19 women who publicly accused the president of sexual misconduct during the 2016 campaign. She had claimed that Trump kissed her twice on the lips during a 2007 meeting at his office, and then he kissed and groped her the next time she saw him at a hotel where she had gone to join him for dinner.
Ms Zervos has repeatedly accused Mr Trump of kissing her against her will at a 2007 meeting in NY, and later groping her at a Beverly Hills hotel.
The ruling by a NY state appeals court raises the prospect that a sitting president could now be called for sworn questioning.
Zervos first came forward about the incidents during the 2016 campaign, after an infamous Access Hollywood tape emerged showing Trump boasting about grabbing women's genitals.
"We find that the supremacy clause was never meant to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases and controversies under the state's constitution", the court said in an opinion by Dianne Renwick. They also say his comments were opinions and protected free speech.
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Zervos' lawyers said Trump's words were factual falsehoods that subjected her to threats and cost her business at her Southern California restaurant. But in their ruling on Thursday, the court said that finding the president in contempt would be a "hypothetical scenario that is highly unlikely to occur in the context of this lawsuit". That paved the way for Clinton's impeachment the following year.
Zervos filed her defamation lawsuit three days before Trump's inauguration.
All five justices found Ms Zervos's defamation claim legally sufficient, without ruling on its merits.
The judges said in an opinion written by Justice Dianne T. Renwick: 'The current sitting President attempts to shield himself from consequences for his alleged unofficial misconduct by relying upon the constitutional protection of the Presidency.
The trial judge has allowed discovery to move forward while the president's appeal was pending.
"We are very pleased that the First Department has affirmed once again that (Trump) 'is not above the law, '" Wang said in a statement Thursday.