Trump tax ruling a new front in defamation suits against him

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In this March 4, 2020, file photo, E. Jean Carroll arrives at court in New York. Carrolls's attorney believes that when the Supreme Court decided that the presidency isn't a shield against a New York prosecutor's criminal investigation, the same principle would apply to civil matters. He contends that Carroll's defamation case against the president should be able to move forward. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

NEW YORK – When the U.S. Supreme Court decided this month that the presidency isn’t a shield against a New York prosecutor’s criminal investigation, the justices didn’t say whether the same goes for civil suits against the president in state courts.

That has quickly become a question in two closely watched defamation lawsuits filed by women who say President Donald Trump smeared them while denying their sexual assault allegations.

Lawyers for the women, E. Jean Carroll and Summer Zervos, are now trying to persuade New York courts that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling strengthens their arguments for letting the suits go forward. Trump’s attorneys are contending just the opposite.

The dispute comes with one of the cases now before New York’s highest court, which is weighing whether a sitting president is constitutionally protected from being sued in state courts.

“The answer is no” under the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning, Zervos attorneys Beth Wilkinson and Moira Penza wrote in a letter Friday to the top-level state Court of Appeals.

Although the Supreme Court case was about a criminal probe, Zervos’ and Carroll’s lawyers maintain that the justices rejected essentially the same presidential immunity claims that Trump’s attorneys have raised in the lawsuits.

“The Supreme Court has now spoken,” Carroll lawyer Roberta Kaplan wrote to the judge in her defamation case last week. She said it follows from the ruling “that Trump’s assertions of immunity in this case ... are completely baseless.”

Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz said that doesn’t follow at all.