A New York appellate court ruled this morning that President Donald Trump must face a defamation lawsuit filed by a former Apprentice contestant who he supposedly dubbed his “OC Angel” because she comes from Orange County.
Summer Zervos, whose family business is the greasy spoon Sunnys across from Golden West College in Huntington Beach, was among several women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct before the 2016 presidential election.
After Trump called the women liars—and specifically singled out Zervos multiple times in the fall of that year—she filed suit in New York on Jan. 17, 2017, which was three days before his inauguration.
Trump’s legal team has tried to argue that he cannot be sued is state court during his presidency, but three of five judges on the appeals panel disagree. The majority and dissenting judges each cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. Jones, which found presidents can be sued while in office for unofficial acts. (Note: Attorney Gloria Allred never represented Paula Jones. We apologize for reporting otherwise in the original version of this story.)
“Contrary to defendant’s contention, Clinton v. Jones did not suggest that its reasoning would not apply to state court actions,” reads the appeals panel’s majority ruling. “It merely identified a potential constitutional concern. Notwithstanding that concern, this Court should not be deterred from holding that a state court can exercise jurisdiction over the President as a defendant in a civil lawsuit.”
Trump’s attorney Marc E. Kasowitz vows to cite in his client’s appeal the Clinton v. Jones reasoning of the two dissenting appeals judges, who concluded the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution bars state courts from hearing cases against a president still in office.
Zervos, who arrived in New York in 2005 to film the fifth season of NBC’s The Apprentice, “immediately admired Donald Trump, and hoped he could be her mentor as she tried to learn from her experience on The Apprentice, and ultimately, to succeed in the restaurant business,” states her complaint. “Even after Ms. Zervos was ‘fired’ on the show, she continued to see Mr. Trump as a possible mentor and potential employer.”
While in New York for a social obligation in early December 2007, Zervos met Trump at Trump Tower to discuss job possibilities within his organization. “As soon as she arrived at his office, Mr. Trump immediately kissed Ms. Zervos on the lips,” states her complaint. “She was taken aback, but thought perhaps that Mr. Trump just greeted people that way. They sat down and began talking.
“Mr. Trump was extremely complimentary of Ms. Zervos. He said that he was very impressed with how she had handled herself on The Apprentice and that he had never met anyone with her combination of being smart, attractive and with as large a set of ‘balls’ as she had. Mr. Trump told her he would love to have her work for him. Ms. Zervos was very excited and felt that her dream of working for Mr. Trump might come true.”
But she alleges that as she was preparing to leave Trump’s office, he “suddenly” kissed her on the lips a second time. “The kisses on her mouth–done without her consent–made Ms. Zervos feel uncomfortable, nervous and embarrassed,” reads the complaint. “She felt that it was inappropriate behavior. She spoke to a friend and her parents about it, all of whom concluded that this must just be the way that Mr. Trump greeted people.”
Zervos says she soldiered on after returning to Orange County, where she claims she received a call from Trump on the number she had left after their New York meeting. “He called her his OC Angel, because he knew she was from Orange County,” reads the complaint. “In another, later call, he indicated that he was coming to Los Angeles, and then called her again after he had landed, asking her to meet him that evening at the Beverly Hills Hotel for dinner at a restaurant.”
But when she arrived at the hotel, a security guard led her to a bungalow where she claims she waited for nearly 15 minutes before Trump came out of a bedroom in a suit, immediately started kissing her open mouthed and pulled her toward him. “Ms. Zervos walked away and sat on a chair, trying to make conversation, but Mr. Trump asked her to sit next to him on a love seat,” states the complaint. “Ms. Zervos complied. After Ms. Zervos sat next to him, Mr. Trump grabbed her shoulder, again kissing her very aggressively, and placed his hand on her breast. Ms. Zervos pulled back and walked to another part of the room.
“Mr. Trump walked up to Ms. Zervos, grabbed her hand, and led her into the bedroom. Ms. Zervos walked out. Mr. Trump turned Ms. Zervos around and said, ‘Let’s lay down and watch some telly telly.’ He embraced her and she tried to push him away, shoving his chest away from her and telling him sternly ‘come on man, get real.’ Mr. Trump repeated her words back to her lasciviously, drawing out the second word and saying, ‘get reeeeal,’ as he began to press his genitals against her, trying to kiss her again.
“Ms. Zervos again told him she was not interested, saying ‘dude, you’re tripping right now.’ Mr. Trump asked her what she wanted, and she replied that she had come for dinner. Mr. Trump then said, ‘okay, we’ll have dinner.’ He paced around the room and seemed angry. He told her that he did not believe that she had ever known love or been in love.”
She claims when a waiter arrived at the door with dinner–a club sandwich and fries that they would be splitting (and he would complain was overpriced)–he instructed her to wait out of sight in another room. Once the waiter left, the pair began a conversation that seemed to her to be a job interview. Trump is claimed to have abruptly ended the conversation by saying he needed to go to bed and instructing Zervos to meet him the next morning at his golf course in Palos Verdes.
In the complaint, Zervos claims she “felt confused” but believed Trump still wanted to talk with her about a job despite her rejection. “She thought that perhaps Mr. Trump had been testing her and that she had passed. She drove straight to her family’s business to discuss what happened with her father, and to get his advice as to whether she should go to the golf course the following day, given what had occurred. After speaking with her father, Ms. Zervos decided to go to meet Mr. Trump the following day.”
She says she has a brief meeting with Trump at the golf course before he introduced her to the general manager, who took her on a tour. Once they got back, Zervos contends, “Mr. Trump was nowhere in sight.” Later that week, the golf course GM called and offered her a job at half the salary that she had told Trump she was seeking, according to the complaint, which adds she called the billionaire to complain.
Her lawsuit goes on describe a couple of years of getting the runaround as she believed Trump might have a job for her and that he may have been ashamed and embarrassed about the alleged sexual misconduct. In July 2016, Trump was selected as the presidential nominee for the Republican Party, which Zervos also belonged to. Her attitude toward her encounters with him changed after the Access Hollywood tape came out a month before that November’s presidential election, as it informed her that other women had similar encounters with Trump and what his state of mind was around attractive women.
That’s when she went public. “Ms. Zervos did not come forward in order to be famous,” claims her complaint. “Ms. Zervos did not come forward at the urging, request or requirement of Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee.”
The damage to Zervos came when Trump “wasted no time in using his bully pulpit to skewer and deride Ms. Zervos with false statements of fact,” reads her suit. “Mr. Trump’s immediate response, in the late afternoon or evening of October 14, 2016, was falsely to state: ‘To be clear, I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago. That is not who I am as a person, and it is not how I’ve conducted my life.’ Mr. Trump’s statement was posted on his campaign website, and widely reported in the media.
“That same evening, October 14, 2016, Mr. Trump’s campaign issued a statement by Ms. Zervos’ cousin, John Barry, who described how Ms. Zervos had only said nice things about Mr. Trump in the past. He concluded: ‘I think Summer wishes she could still be on reality TV, and in an effort to get that back she’s saying all of these negative things about Mr. Trump. That’s not how she talked about him before. I can only imagine that Summer’s actions today are nothing more than an attempt to regain the spotlight at Mr. Trump’s expense . …’ On information and belief, Mr. Trump’s campaign team drafted and issued Barry’s statement at Mr. Trump’s direction and with his approval.
“In fact, that first cousin, a Trump supporter, had been fired from Ms. Zervos’ family’s restaurant because he was unreliable, and was apparently disgruntled as a result. In a text, that cousin had referred to himself as a ‘loser.'”
The morning of Oct. 15, 2016, Trump’s campaign issued a statement with Barry’s comments, and at a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that afternoon the GOP nominee stated, “[T]oday, the cousin of one of these people, very close to her, wrote a letter that what she said is a lie. That she was a huge fan of Donald Trump. That she invited Donald Trump to her restaurant to have dinner, which by the way I didn’t go to, didn’t even know who the heck we’re talking about here. But these allegations have been, many of them already proven so false.”
On Oct. 17, 2016, Trump retweeted a news story that included a picture of Zervos, stating “This is all yet another hoax. … Terrible.”
Trump knew he was lying about Zervos in statements specifically about her allegations or those lumping her in with other accusers, according to her suit. “Mr. Trump’s false statements about Ms. Zervos are defamation per se, including without limitation because they would tend (and did) injure Ms. Zervos’s trade, occupation or business,” reads the complaint. “Ms. Zervos has suffered as a direct result of Mr. Trump’s false, defamatory statements, both emotionally and financially. Being branded a liar who came forward only for fame or at the manipulation of the Clinton campaign has been painful and demoralizing.
“In addition, Ms. Zervos has suffered financially. Immediately after and because Mr. Trump derided her as a liar seeking fame, her restaurant lost customers and business that it had before. Ms. Zervos suffered at least $2,914 in such financial losses. Ms. Zervos pleads these special damages in the event that a court should determine that she is required to plead special damages as an element of her claim.
“Mr. Trump’s false, defamatory statements about Ms. Zervos–that, among other things, she made up her descriptions of Mr. Trump’s misconduct as a hoax, and that she is creating a ‘phony’ story just so that she can be famous–have been deeply detrimental to Ms. Zervos’s reputation, honor and dignity.
“Ms. Zervos seeks all available remedies to undo this harm, including a retraction and apology by Mr. Trump.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.