Four months after a civil trial jury found that Donald Trump sexually abused and defamed advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday that the ex-president is liable for comments he made to deny he sexually assaulted her.
The decision, marking another victory for Carroll, means jurors in an upcoming second trial will only have to decide how much the former U.S. president should pay in damages.
The ruling stands to streamline significantly the second trial, set for January. It concerns remarks that Trump made in 2019, after Carroll first publicly claimed that he sexually attacked her in a dressing room after a chance meeting at a luxury department store in 1996. He denies that anything happened between them.
The first trial, this spring, concerned the sexual assault allegation and whether some 2022 Trump comments were defamatory. Jurors awarded Carroll $5 million, finding that she was sexually abused but rejecting her allegation that she was raped.
“The jury considered and decided issues that are common to both cases — including whether Mr. Trump falsely accused Ms. Carroll of fabricating her sexual assault charge and, if that were so, that he did it with knowledge that this accusation was false” or acted with reckless disregard for the truth, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in Wednesday’s decision.
The judge wrote that the “substantive content” of the 2019 and 2022 statements was the same. And when the jury found that Trump, 77, indeed sexually abused Carroll, it effectively established that his 2019 statements also were false and defamatory, the judge said.
Carroll, now 79, and her attorneys “look forward to trial limited to damages for the original defamatory statements Donald Trump made,” said her lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who’s not related to the judge.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba said Wednesday that his legal team is confident that the jury verdict will be overturned, mooting the judge’s new decision. Trump, the early front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, also is seeking to put the second trial on hold while waiting for an appeals court to rule on whether he’s legally shielded from the yet-to-be-tried case.
He claims immunity because he was president when he made the 2019 comments.
At least for now, the trial is set to start Jan. 15, the day of the Iowa Republican caucuses.
Trump facing mounting legal battles
The Carroll case is part of a lineup of legal woes that Trump is facing as he campaigns to return to the White House.
Four criminal indictments accuse Trump, variously, of trying to subvert the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden; mishandling top secret documents and trying to conceal what he’d done; and falsifying records in his business to cover up a hush money payment made during his 2016 campaign to porn actor Stormy Daniels. She asserts that they had a sexual encounter, which he denies.
Some of Trump’s criminal trials are scheduled to overlap with the presidential primary season. So is a civil trial in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit accusing Trump and his company of defrauding banks, insurers and others by inflating asset values and his net worth. Trump has denied the allegations, boasted that he has “the hottest brand in the world,” and accused the Democratic attorney general of conducting a political vendetta.
A judge on Wednesday refused to delay that trial, set for October.
Trump denied ever meeting Carroll
Carroll initially sued Trump in 2019, saying he smeared her by saying she’d made a false allegation while “trying to sell a new book” and suggesting she might be a Democratic operative.
“The world should know what’s really going on. It is a disgrace, and people should pay dearly for such false accusations,” Trump said. He maintained that he’d never met Carroll, brushing off a 1987 photo of the two and their then-spouses at a social event.
While that case was playing out, Carroll sued again last year under a New York state law that waived a legal time limit for filing sexual assault allegations. That lawsuit — the one that went to trial last year — came to include claims that Trump defamed Carroll in 2022 by calling the case “a complete con job” and a “scam.” The suit over the 2019 statements remained separate.
Trump, meanwhile, countered with a defamation suit against Carroll for saying, after the verdict, that she was not only sexually abused but raped. The judge dismissed Trump’s suit last month.
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