A US federal judge on Wednesday found Donald Trump liable for defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll by denying in 2019 that he had raped her, and said jurors will decide only how much the former US president should pay in damages.
The decision by US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan comes ahead of a scheduled January 15, 2024, civil trial, after a jury in May ordered Trump to pay Carroll US$5 million for sexual assault and a separate defamation.
That jury “considered and decided issues that are common to both cases”, and its verdict and the undisputed facts “establish that Mr Trump’s 2019 statements were made with actual malice”, Kaplan wrote.
Trump is appealing the May 9 jury verdict, as well as Kaplan’s June 29 refusal to dismiss the current lawsuit, to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
He has also separately pleaded not guilty to charges in four separate federal and state criminal indictments, including two for attempting to reverse his 2020 election loss.
Despite the charges, Trump, 77, has a dominating lead for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Carroll, 79, a former Elle magazine columnist, is seeking an additional US$10 million over Trump’s June 2019 denial that he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan in the mid-1990s.
Trump claimed he had never met Carroll, and that she made up the attack to boost sales of her memoir, saying it “should be sold in the fiction section” and that it was “an absolute disgrace that she’s allowed to do that”.
In his 25-page decision, Kaplan said the May 9 jury verdict eliminated the need to relitigate the alleged attack.
Kaplan also said the verdict precluded Trump from arguing that his June 2019 statements, which were similar to his October 2022 statements, were not defamatory.
The judge also rejected Trump’s claim that the earlier verdict meant any damages should be reduced because Carroll should not recover twice.
Carroll has argued that Trump’s first defamation caused her more harm, including to her reputation, than his second.
Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Carroll, said she looked forward to the January 15 trial. She and the judge are not related.
On August 18, Judge Kaplan called Trump’s appeal of his decision to let the second case go to trial “frivolous”. That could result in Trump owing damages and costs to Carroll if the appeal court agreed.
In his June 2019 statements, Trump also disparaged Carroll by saying “she’s not my type” and the alleged rape “never happened”.
The judge did not rule on whether those comments were defamatory, saying in a footnote that neither side adequately addressed whether he should rule before trial.
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