'Apprentice' Alum's Trump Defamation Suit Could Go to Trial Amid Re-election Campaign

It's unlikely but not out of the realm of possibility that Summer Zervos' claim — that the president lied when he denied attacking her in a hotel room — could be heard this year.
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Multiple courts are considering whether the U.S. Constitution shields Trump from lawsuits while saving as president.

Will the 2020 election be rocked by a #MeToo trial, specifically the defamation suit filed by season five Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos against Donald Trump in January 2017, just three days before he was sworn in as president? It's unlikely but not out of the realm of possibility.

Until recently, Zervos was on the fast track in her case that alleges Trump lied during the 2016 campaign when he denied attacking her in a hotel room more than a decade ago. The parties agreed that Trump would soon sit for a deposition, fact discovery would be completed by March 2, and summary judgment motions would be filed by the end of April. That potentially opened the door for a trial as soon as New York Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter ruled whether there was any issue that should be put before a jury.

Of course, Trump has argued the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants him immunity to civil action in state court while president. So far, the courts have sided with Zervos on the issue, but New York's appellate courts decided Jan. 7 that Trump's arguments in the case merited another look, and the proceeding was put on hold. If Trump loses on appeal again, he may seek further review up the appellate ladder.

Then again, in a separate case involving Trump's attempt to shield financial records, the Supreme Court will soon consider his contention that the Supremacy Clause limits actions against him while he's in office. In other words, it could become clear that Trump lacks avenue to dodge the Zervos suit.

Even if judges greenlight the Zervos trial, though, Schecter likely will face calls by Trump to delay the proceeding until after the 2020 campaign season. That happened four years ago when a class action over alleged Trump University racketeering was scheduled after Election Day. That trial later was averted because weeks after he beat Hillary Clinton, Trump reached a $25 million settlement with disgruntled former Trump University students. 

This story first appeared in the Jan. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.