A federal judge in New York dealt former President Donald Trump’s legal effort a blow by rejecting his request for a new trial and upholding a $5 million jury verdict in a civil case brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll.
Judge Lewis Kaplan on Wednesday denied Mr. Trump’s motion for a new trial or to decrease the jury’s award of $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Carroll, who accused the former president of sexual assault and defamation.
The case relates to a civil lawsuit Ms. Carroll brought against Mr. Trump in 2022, accusing him of battery and defamation. She alleged that Mr. Trump raped her in a Manhattan department store dressing room in 1996 and later defamed her in 2022 when he called the incident a hoax.
In May 2023, a nine-member jury handed Ms. Carroll a win in the suit, although it found that she did not prove that Mr. Trump raped her but instead determined that he had sexually abused her. The jury awarded Ms. Carroll $2 million in damages for sexual abuse and around $3 million for defamation.
Lawyers for Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, appealed the May decision, asking the judge to lower the jury award for damages to less than $1 million or order a new trial.
The Trump attorneys argued that the $2 million award for damages was excessive as the jury had concluded that Mr. Trump had not raped Ms. Carroll at Bergdorf Goodman’s Manhattan store decades ago.
In his 59-page ruling entered on July 19 (pdf), Judge Kaplan said he had considered all of the arguments raised by Mr. Trump’s legal team and “found them all unpersuasive.”
“The jury in this case did not reach a ‘seriously erroneous result.’ Its verdict is not a ‘miscarriage of justice,'” the judge wrote, while denying Mr. Trump’s motion for a new trial or a reduction in damages to Ms. Carroll.
Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday’s decision.
However, Mr. Trump’s attorneys filed a notice of appeal on July 19 (pdf) against the $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages, and against all adverse rulings found in Judge Kaplan’s decision earlier that day.
Ms. Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, said in a statement that Ms. Carroll hopes to collect the $5 million and looks forward to pressing forward with a separate lawsuit against Mr. Trump, which has a trial date set for Jan. 15, 2024.
In seeking a reduction in damages, Mr. Trump’s attorneys called the $2 million award for sexual abuse “grossly excessive” because such abuse included groping Ms. Carroll through clothing, “a far cry from rape.”
But the judge said that this argument fell flat as New York law defines rape much more narrowly than many people might think and that the jury didn’t award the $2 million in damages “for groping her breasts through her clothing, wrongful as that might have been.”
Instead, the jury found that Mr. Trump had “forcibly penetrated Ms. Carroll’s vagina with his fingers,” Judge Kaplan wrote, adding that this meets the legal definition of rape in New York law and so merits the $2 million award.
“The finding that Ms. Carroll failed to prove that she was ‘raped’ within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape,'” the judge wrote in the decision.
The case is Carroll v. Trump, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-10016.
A separate case, Carroll v. Trump in the same court, No. 20-07311, relates to a lawsuit Ms. Carroll filed over allegedly defamatory comments Mr. Trump made about her in 2019 when she first publicly accused him of sexual assault.
Appellate litigation surrounding that suit caused delays, with Mr. Trump’s legal team arguing that he was shielded from liability because he was president when he made the comments.
In that case, Ms. Carroll is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages.
Mr. Trump appeared at a town hall event on CNN on May 10—just a day after the jury issued the $5 million verdict in Ms. Carroll’s other lawsuit. During that appearance, Mr. Trump called Ms. Carroll a “whack job” and said her claims against him were fake.
Ms. Carroll’s legal team responded by filing a motion to amend their original complaint to include Mr. Trump’s remarks at the town hall and seek higher damages.
In response, lawyers for Mr. Trump contended in a June 5 memorandum (pdf) that Ms. Carroll’s motion was “futile” since his comments made at the CNN town hall were “safeguarded by the fair reporting privilege, which consequently prevents them from being used as a foundation to enhance the punitive damages sought by [Carroll] in this case.”
Even though the Department of Justice (DOJ) initially determined that Mr. Trump was speaking in his capacity as president at the time of his public denials, it later changed course and decided that Mr. Trump should not have presidential immunity shielding him from the defamation lawsuit.
On his Truth Social platform, Mr. Trump referred to the DOJ’s refusal to grant presidential immunity as “horrible” before adding, “We are strongly appealing this travesty of justice!”