Trump's Lawyer to Use 2020 Law Against Frivolous Lawsuits as Harassment Claim Defense

Former President Donald Trump's lawyer said on Monday that she planned to use a 2020 New York law in response to Summer Zervos' defamation lawsuit, the Associated Press reported.

A former contestant on The Apprentice, Zervos sued Trump for defamation over what he said when denying her sexual assault allegations in 2017. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump denied Zervos' allegations and retweeted a message that called her claims "a hoax." Trump described Zervos and other women who accused him of sexual misconduct as "liars."

Former Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz called Zervos' claims meritless and said Trump's statements were protected by free speech rights.

Trump's current lawyer, Alina Habba, said Monday that she planned to draw on a law meant to protect people from frivolous lawsuits launched by powerful people to quiet criticism. Simply put, the law makes it easier to fight defamation claims when they are "in connection with an issue of public interest," defined as "any subject other than a purely private matter," AP reported.

For more reporting by the Associated Press, see below.

Former Apprentice contestant sues Trump for defamation
Former President Donald Trump's lawyer said on Monday that she planned to use a 2020 New York law in response to Summer Zervos' defamation lawsuit. Above, Zervos leaves New York state appellate court. Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

Trump previously raised a somewhat similar California law among his defenses in Zervos' suit. Still, Habba said drawing on the New York statute would make a difference.

"With the new law in place, I think this case will be wrapped up very quickly," she said after court on Monday.

When the measure was making its way through the state Legislature last year, a sponsor pointed to Trump as rationale.

"For decades, Donald Trump, his billionaire friends, large corporations and other powerful forces have abused our legal system by attempting to harass, intimidate and impoverish their critics with strategic lawsuits against public participation," Democratic state Senator Brad Hoylman said in a July 2020 statement.

Trump and his campaign have sued a number of media outlets over their coverage of him, including a lawsuit he filed last month against his estranged niece and The New York Times over a 2018 story about his family's wealth and tax practices. Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoads Ha called it "an attempt to silence independent news organizations."

Depositions of both Trump and Zervos are now due by December 23. Their lawyers have two weeks to try to nail down specific dates, or the court will set them.

The new deadline for Trump's deposition—a legal term for out-of-court, pretrial questioning under oath—comes as Summer Zervos' 2017 lawsuit emerges from a more than yearlong freeze.

"The defendant is now a private citizen, and he just cannot delay this litigation any longer," Zervos attorney Moira Penza said told a Manhattan judge's law clerk during the teleconference.

Then-President Trump was weeks away from a January 2020 deposition deadline when he won a delay to ask the New York's top court to consider holding off the case entirely until he was out of office. He argued that sitting presidents couldn't be sued in state courts.

After he left office this year, the state high court—the Court of Appeals—said the question was moot. The case returned to a Manhattan trial court for both sides to continue gathering evidence.

AP generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted, unless they come forward publicly as Zervos has.