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Judge hands E. Jean Carroll a big win ahead of Trump damages trial as her lawyers attack ‘frivolous’ emergency immunity claims

E. Jean Carroll appears to the left in still photograph smiling wearing sunglasses; to the right, Donald Trump stands at a podium speaking

Left: E. Jean Carroll arrives at Manhattan federal court, Tuesday, May 9, 2023, in New York. A federal judge tossed out former President Donald Trump’s countersuit against Carroll who won a sex abuse lawsuit against him, ruling Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, that Trump can’t claim she defamed him by continuing to say she was not only sexually abused but raped. (AP, John Minchillo)/ Right: Former President Donald Trump speaks during the 56th annual Silver Elephant Gala in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. (AP /Artie Walker Jr.)

Several months after a jury found him civilly liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s, former President Donald Trump asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to countenance his lingering presidential immunity claims as the calendar careens towards a scheduled January 2024 damages trial in a second lawsuit.

But in another setback for Trump on Wednesday morning, Senior U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan found in favor of Carroll’s partial motion for summary judgment, ruling that the upcoming trial in Carroll I “shall be limited to the issues of damages only” — meaning the question of whether Trump is liable for defaming Carroll has already been decided through the Carroll II verdict.

“I have considered Mr. Trump’s other arguments and found them all unpersuasive,” the judge wrote.

The ruling comes weeks after the judge threw out Trump’s countersuit against Carroll, which claimed that she defamed him by falsely accusing him of rape.

“Indeed, the jury’s verdict… establishes, as against Mr. Trump that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her albeit digitally rather than with his penis. Thus, it establishes against him the substantial truth of Ms. Carroll’s ‘rape’ accusations,” Kaplan wrote on Aug. 7.

Between then and now, Trump’s lawyers last Friday filed an emergency motion for a stay pending appeal in the Second Circuit, asserting that his “presidential immunity defense” from suit under the Westfall Act should be resolved before he has to face the damages trial in January.

“Given that the underlying action is currently scheduled to proceed to trial on January 15, 2024, it is a foregone conclusion that, absent a stay, Defendant-Appellant would be required to proceed to trial without a final resolution of his presidential immunity defense, which has been properly asserted on multiple grounds,” the emergency motion said. “Therefore, a stay of proceedings is necessary to resolve the critical and dispositive issues raised in the instant appeal.”

Carroll’s lawyers fired back on Tuesday, calling the emergency motion’s arguments “frivolous” and Trump’s litigation conduct “dilatory.”

“Defendant-Appellant Donald J. Trump’s motion for a stay ignores virtually the entire factual and procedural history of this four-year-old case—and barely responds to Judge Kaplan’s decision denying such relief. That is no coincidence,” said the opening lines of Carroll’s motion in opposition. “Trump’s filing in this Court continues his commitment to procedural gamesmanship.”

The lawyers argued that “Trump’s position collapses” in the face of precedent and is “highly unlikely to succeed on the merits.”

“[H]is lead argument is foreclosed by authorities to which he does not even attempt a response, and the remaining points that he raises here are waived and meritless. Nor would Trump face substantial injury if he were denied a stay,” the response said. “The harms that he describes are mainly self-inflicted, and his objections to a short trial in January 2024 ring hollow based on his own litigation conduct.”

Carroll’s lawyers further said that Trump “expressly requested an expedited trial in this case less than six months ago,” but has “changed his mind only after an adverse verdict in a related matter” — the defamation case known as Carroll I.

“Although Trump offers a separate, one-page objection to Judge Kaplan’s jurisdiction, that argument is foreclosed by Second Circuit law and, in any event, fails because Trump’s position is frivolous and his conduct dilatory,” the response continued, urging the Second Circuit to deny the motion for a stay.

The lawyers again said that Trump’s immunity defense argument is “frivolous,” and they cited Judge Kaplan’s rulings on the matter.

“Trump does not dispute waiving his immunity defense and does not deny that he did so for strategic reasons. Instead, he asserts that he is entitled to change his mind three years later because this defense is a non-waivable issue of jurisdiction. That argument is frivolous—as confirmed by Trump’s failure to offer any response to Judge Kaplan’s thorough explanation of why it is plainly foreclosed.”

The motion in opposition to the stay characterized the last-ditch Trump petition as an “effort to declare ‘backsies.'”

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.