Trump loses bid to delay E. Jean Carroll rape-defame case, but granted expedited appeal

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E. Jean Carroll reacts as she exits the Manhattan Federal Court following the verdict in the civil rape accusation case against former U.S. President Donald Trump, in New York City, May 9, 2023.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

A federal appeals court on Wednesday denied a bid by Donald Trump to delay a defamation lawsuit by the writer E. Jean Carroll, but granted him an expedited appeal on the question of whether he can claim absolute presidential immunity as a defense.

The order by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals is a partial victory for Trump after a series of significant losses in two lawsuits that Carroll filed against him related to her allegation of being raped by him in the mid-1990s in a New York department store.

Barring further action by that appeals court or the Supreme Court, the second of Carroll’s suits remains scheduled for trial in mid-January in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

But the 2nd Circuit in its order Wednesday consolidated two pending appeals by Trump and ordered his lawyers and Carroll’s attorney to file legal briefs on the dispute over the next 35 days.

“The appeals will be assigned to the first available panel to hear the cases on the merits,” the court said.

That means a panel of three appeals judges could hear arguments by mid-October, and potentially rule before the trial is due to start.

The order came a week after a federal district court judge ruled that Trump is civilly liable for defamatory statements he made about Carrol in 2019 when she first went public with her allegations of having been raped by him. The ruling means the upcoming trial will solely deal with the question of how much Trump should pay Carroll in monetary damages.

Carroll’s lawyer Robbie Kaplan in a statement said, “We look forward both to the January 15 trial on damages and to making our arguments to the Second Circuit that Donald Trump waived presidential immunity.”

Kaplan in court filings has scoffed at Trump’s appeals of two adverse rulings by the judge in the case, accusing the former president of legal gamesmanship by raising a claim of absolute presidential immunity at the tail end of litigation as the case got closer to trial and he kept losing court rulings.

A lawyer for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A jury in Manhattan federal court in May awarded Carroll $5 million in damages for the other lawsuit after finding that he had sexually abused her during an encounter in the Bergdorf Goodman department store in the 1990s, and defamed her in statements he made denying her allegation last fall.

Trump, who denies sexually assaulting Carroll, is appealing that verdict.

In the pending suit headed to trial, Carroll alleges Trump defamed her in 2019 when he, as president, first made statements denying her claim of rape. That case was delayed for years by legal proceedings that included an effort by the Department of Justice to effectively kill Carroll’s claim by arguing Trump had immunity from the lawsuit because he had been president at the time.

In July, the DOJ dropped those efforts, citing a ruling by the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., that suggested Trump could be personally sued if his statements did not have the purpose of serving the U.S. government.

The DOJ also noted that Trump’s allegedly defamatory statements about Carroll continued after he left the White House in January 2021.