The Liability of Donald Trump for Defamatory Statements: A Federal Judge’s Ruling

The Liability of Donald Trump for Defamatory Statements: A Federal Judge’s Ruling

A federal judge recently made a significant ruling regarding former President Donald Trump’s liability for defamatory statements he made about writer E. Jean Carroll. In 2019, Carroll publicly accused Trump of raping her decades earlier. This article will delve into the judge’s ruling, the implications for the upcoming trial, and the broader impact on Trump’s legal battles.

Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that Trump is civilly liable for the defamatory statements he made about Carroll. However, the upcoming trial will focus solely on determining the monetary damages Trump should pay her. Typically, a jury would decide a defendant’s liability in civil damages, but Kaplan found that Carroll was entitled to a partial summary judgment. This judgment was based on a related lawsuit in which jurors had already found that Trump sexually abused Carroll and defamed her when he denied the allegations. Therefore, Carroll’s lawyers argued, and Kaplan agreed, that the jury’s verdict settled the question of whether Trump had defamed her in the statements made in 2019.

Implications for Trump

This ruling is just one in a series of legal losses for Trump in lawsuits filed by Carroll. In a separate trial that concluded in May, Trump was ordered to pay Carroll $5 million in damages for his post-presidential comments. Nevertheless, Trump is appealing the verdict and damages in that case. The lawsuit addressed by Judge Kaplan’s ruling focuses on statements made by Trump when he was still president and denied Carroll’s rape claim. The trial for this case is set to begin on January 15, 2024, coinciding with the intensification of the Republican presidential nomination contest. As a front-runner for the 2024 GOP nomination, Trump’s legal battles could have significant implications for his political aspirations.

Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan (no relation to the judge), expressed their satisfaction with the ruling and stated that they are looking forward to a trial limited to determining damages for the original defamatory statements made by Trump. On the other hand, Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, remains confident that the Carroll II verdict will be overturned on appeal, consequently rendering Judge Kaplan’s latest ruling moot. It remains to be seen whether a federal appeals court in New York will block the upcoming trial in Carroll’s first lawsuit based on the defenses raised by President Trump.

Trump’s Defense and Judge Kaplan’s Ruling

Trump is appealing Judge Kaplan’s dismissal of his claim that Carroll defamed him when she reiterated her rape accusation. Trump argues that the jury’s finding that he sexually abused Carroll, rather than raped her, is significant. However, Judge Kaplan rejected this argument, stating that the jury’s determination that Trump had “deliberately and forcibly” penetrated Carroll aligns with the common understanding of the term rape, if not the strict legal definition under New York law.

Interestingly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped its previous efforts to protect Trump from civil liability. For three years, the DOJ fought to shield Trump from this particular suit, claiming that his statements about Carroll were within the scope of his responsibilities as the president. However, the DOJ changed its stance based on a decision by the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., which suggested that personal lawsuits could be pursued against Trump if his statements did not serve the U.S. government’s purpose. Additionally, the DOJ noted that Trump’s allegedly defamatory statements continued after he left the White House in early 2021, and these statements are now part of an amended suit filed by Carroll.

The recent ruling by Judge Kaplan holds Donald Trump civilly liable for defamatory statements made about E. Jean Carroll. While the upcoming trial will solely decide the monetary damages Trump should pay, the broader implications of this ruling and the ongoing legal battles have the potential to impact Trump’s political future. As the 2024 GOP nomination contest heats up, these legal challenges will undoubtedly remain in the spotlight, casting a shadow over Trump’s aspirations. Only time will tell how the courts ultimately decide Trump’s liability and the extent of the damages he will have to pay.


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