No shield for Trump in rape accuser’s case as court declines to rule

Former US President Donald Trump (third from left) appears in court for his arraignment, April 4, 2023, in New York. (PHOTO / AP)

NEW YORK – A Washington, DC, appeals court on Thursday declined to shield Donald Trump from the first of two civil defamation lawsuits by E. Jean Carroll, a writer who said the former US president raped her nearly three decades ago.

The district's highest local court, the Court of Appeals, said it did not have enough facts to decide whether Trump deserved immunity, after he accused the former Elle magazine columnist in June 2019 of lying about the alleged encounter.

A ruling that Trump was acting as president, and not in his personal capacity, would have immunized him and doomed Carroll's first lawsuit because the government could substitute itself as the defendant, and the government cannot be sued for defamation.

On April 4,

former US president Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records in an indictment filed by Bragg, related to a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels

The court sent the case back to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which had last September asked the Washington court for guidance on local law.

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Lawyers for Carroll had no immediate comment.

Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, said in an email: "We are confident that the Second Circuit will rule in President Trump's favor and dismiss Ms. Carroll's case."

Thursday's decision does not affect Carroll's second lawsuit, where an April 25 trial is scheduled in Manhattan federal court.

That case also includes a battery claim under a New York law that lets sexual abuse survivors sue their alleged attackers even if statutes of limitations have run out.

No trial delay

Trump wants to postpone the trial at least until May 23, saying "prejudicial media coverage" of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's recent criminal case against him would leave that case "top of mind" for most prospective jurors.

His lawyers said a delay was also needed after they belatedly learned from Carroll's legal team that Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent Democratic donor, was footing some of her legal bills.

They said that raised the question of whether Carroll sued Trump, a Republican, to advance a political agenda.

In an order late Thursday, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan refused to delay the trial, but said Trump could gather more information about Hoffman's role and Carroll's understanding of it.

The judge did not address whether Bragg's case jeopardized Trump's right to a fair trial in Carroll's case.

Carroll, 79, has long accused Trump of stalling to keep jurors from ever hearing her case.

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Both of Carroll's lawsuits stem from her alleged encounter with Trump in late 1995 or early 1996 in a Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan.

Carroll has said Trump asked for her help in buying a gift for another woman, but later "maneuvered" her into and sexually assaulted her in a dressing room.

'Fact-intensive question'

After Carroll described the incident in a June 2019 New York magazine excerpt from her memoir, Trump told a reporter at the White House that he did not know Carroll, that "she's not my type," and that she concocted the rape claim to sell her book.

He largely repeated his denial in October 2022, when he called the rape claim a "hoax," "lie," "con job" and "complete scam" on his Truth Social media platform.

The Washington appeals court said that in deciding whether people act in the scope of their employment, the district generally looks to whether they are motivated by a purpose to serve their employer around the time they acted.

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Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby said determining what was on Trump's mind when he first talked about Carroll was a "fact-intensive question" that "cannot be resolved as a matter of law in either party's favor on the record before us."

At trial, Carroll is expected to introduce testimony from two women who have said Trump sexually assaulted them, and a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump making vulgar comments about women that threatened to upend his 2016 White House run.

On April 4, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records in an indictment filed by Bragg, related to a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The case is Trump et al v. Carroll, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, No. 22-SP-0745.

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