Trump fails to halt 'Apprentice' contestant's defamation lawsuit

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state appeals court on Thursday denied U.S. President Donald Trump's bid to halt a defamation lawsuit by a former contestant on his reality TV show "The Apprentice" who accused him of making unwanted sexual advances.

In a one-page order, the Appellate Division in Manhattan did not explain why it refused to stay the lawsuit by Summer Zervos while the president appeals a March 20 lower court ruling that allowed the California restaurateur to pursue her case.

The White House was not immediately available for comment.

Trump is appealing a ruling by Justice Jennifer Schecter of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, which rejected his claim that as president he was immune from lawsuits over private conduct predating his entering the White House.

Zervos, an "Apprentice" contestant in 2005, accused Trump of kissing her against her will at a 2007 meeting in New York and later groping her at a Beverly Hills hotel.

She first came forward in October 2016, a month before the presidential election, following the release of a 2005 "Access Hollywood" recording in which Trump spoke in vulgar terms about women.

While Trump apologized for his comments, he said repeatedly during his campaign that all accusations made by women after the "Access Hollywood" recording became public were "lies." He also republished on Twitter a post calling Zervos' claims a hoax.

Zervos has said those denials amounted to defamation and that diners avoided her restaurant after she was branded a liar.

"We look forward to proving Ms. Zervos's claim that defendant lied when he maliciously attacked her for reporting his sexually abusive behavior," Zervos' law firm, Cuti Hecker Wang said in a statement on Thursday.

Several women have accused Trump of improper sexual conduct or said he had affairs with them.

Stormy Daniels, a pornographic film actress whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is seeking to end an agreement in which Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid her $130,000 not to discuss her alleged affair with Trump.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Richard Chang and Jonathan Oatis)

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