NEW YORK — President Donald Trump got a reprieve Tuesday in a former “Apprentice” contestant’s lawsuit over his response to her sexual assault allegations, when appeals judges gave him permission to appeal to New York’s highest court and put proceedings on hold in the meantime.
Trump’s lawyers have been trying to get Summer Zervos’ defamation suit delayed through his presidency or dismissed altogether.
Courts so far have said no, but Trump’s attorneys can now try to persuade the top-level state Court of Appeals to hear the case. Tuesday’s ruling also holds off other pretrial action until the high court decides. Trump had been due to undergo sworn pretrial questioning by Jan. 31, under an agreement the two sides reached last fall.
Trump’s lawyers said they were pleased with Tuesday’s 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,” Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP 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.
The March decision found the Constitution “was never intended to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases.”
The dissenting judges, however, said subjecting a sitting president to a state trial court’s jurisdiction “interferes with his ability to carry out his constitutional duty of executing the laws of the United States.”
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 the women “liars” trying to harm him with “100 percent 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.