Jury says Trump must pay extra $136.7m in E. Jean Carroll defamation case

By 1news.co.nz and is republished with permission

A jury has awarded an additional US$83.3 million (NZ$136.7 million) to former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who says former US President Donald Trump damaged her reputation by calling her a liar after she accused him of sexual assault.

The verdict was the second time in nine months that a jury addressed Carroll’s claim that Trump assaulted her in a New York City department store in 1996. Another jury last May found Trump liable for sexual abuse and ordered him to pay US$5 million (NZ$8.2 million). This defamation trial was over things Trump said about Carroll while he was president. Trump continues to insist he was falsely accused.

The verdict was delivered by a seven-man, two-woman jury in a trial regularly attended by Trump, who abruptly left the courtroom during closing arguments by a Carroll lawyer before returning to hear his own lawyer’s closing and the full rebuttal argument by another Carroll attorney. He stayed in place to hear the judge’s instructions to the jury as well.

It was the second time in nine months that a jury returned a verdict related to Carroll’s claim that a flirtatious, chance encounter with Trump in 1996 at a Bergdorf Goodman store ended violently. She said Trump slammed her against a dressing room wall, pulled down her tights and forced himself on her.

In May, a different jury awarded Carroll US$5 million (NZ$8.2 million). It found Trump not liable for rape, but responsible for sexually abusing Carroll and then defaming her by claiming she made it up. He is appealing that award.

Trump skipped the first trial. He later expressed regret for not attending and insisted on testifying in the second trial, though the judge limited what he could say, ruling he had missed his chance to argue that he was innocent. He spent only a few minutes on the witness stand yesterday, during which he denied attacking Carroll, then left court grumbling “this is not America”.

This new jury was only asked how much Trump, 77, should pay Carroll, 80, for two statements he made as president when he answered reporters’ questions after excerpts of Carroll’s memoir were published in a magazine — damages that couldn’t be decided earlier because of legal appeals. Jurors were not asked to re-decide the issue of whether the sex attack actually happened.

Carroll’s attorneys had requested US$24 million (NZ$39.4 million) in compensatory damages and “an unusually high punitive award”.

Her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, urged jurors in her closing argument today to punish Trump enough that he would stop a steady stream of public statements smearing Carroll as a liar and a “whack job”.

Trump shook his head vigorously as Kaplan spoke, then suddenly stood and walked out, taking Secret Service agents with him. His exit came only minutes after the judge, without the jury present, threatened to send Trump attorney Alina Habba to jail for continuing to talk when he told her she was finished.

“You are on the verge of spending some time in the lockup. Now sit down,” the judge told Habba, who immediately complied.

The trial reached its conclusion as Trump marches toward winning the Republican presidential nomination a third consecutive time. He has sought to turn his various trials and legal vulnerabilities into an advantage, portraying them as evidence of a weaponised political system.

Though there’s no evidence that US President Joe Biden or anyone in the White House has influenced any of the legal cases against him, Trump’s line of argument has resonated with his most loyal supporters who view the proceedings with scepticism.

Carroll testified early in the trial that Trump’s public statements had led to death threats.

“He shattered my reputation,” she said. “I am here to get my reputation back and to stop him from telling lies about me.”

She said she’d had an electronic fence installed around the cabin in upstate New York where she lives, warned neighbours of the threats and bought bullets for a gun she keeps by her bed.

“Previously, I was known as simply as a journalist and had a column, and now I’m known as the liar, the fraud, and the whack job,” Carroll testified.

Trump’s lawyer, Habba, told jurors that Carroll had been enriched by her accusations against Trump and achieved fame she had craved. She said no damages were warranted.

To support Carroll’s request for millions in damages, Northwestern University sociologist Ashlee Humphreys told the jury that Trump’s 2019 statements had caused between US$7.2 million and US$12.1 million (NZ$11.8 million and NZ$19.8 million) in harm to Carroll’s reputation.

When Trump finally testified, Kaplan gave him little room to manoeuvre, because Trump could not be permitted to try to revive issues settled in the first trial.

“It is a very well-established legal principle in this country that prevents do-overs by disappointed litigants,” Kaplan said.

“He lost it and he is bound. And the jury will be instructed that, regardless of what he says in court here today, he did it, as far as they’re concerned. That is the law,” Kaplan said shortly before Trump testified.

After he swore to tell the truth, Trump was asked if he stood by a deposition in which he called Carroll a “liar” and a “whack job”. He answered: “100 per cent. Yes.”

Asked if he denied the allegation because Carroll made an accusation, he responded: “That’s exactly right. She said something, I consider it a false accusation.” Asked if he ever instructed anyone to hurt Carroll, he said: “No. I just wanted to defend myself, my family, and frankly, the presidency.”

The judge ordered the jury to disregard the “false accusation” comment and everything Trump said after “No” to the last question.

Earlier in the trial, Trump tested the judge’s tolerance. When he complained to his lawyers about a “witch hunt” and a “con job” within earshot of jurors, Kaplan threatened to eject him from the courtroom if it happened again. “I would love it,” Trump said. Later that day, Trump told a news conference Kaplan was a “nasty judge”.

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