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Judge Says Trump Can Wait a Week to Testify at Sex Abuse Victim's Defamation Trial

FILE - E. Jean Carroll, who alleges Donald Trump raped her in a department store in 1996, arrives at Manhattan Federal Court, in New York, May 9, 2023.
FILE - E. Jean Carroll, who alleges Donald Trump raped her in a department store in 1996, arrives at Manhattan Federal Court, in New York, May 9, 2023.

Former President Donald Trump can wait a week to testify at a New York defamation trial where he could face millions of dollars in damages after a jury concluded that he sexually abused a columnist in the 1990s, a federal judge said Sunday.

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan issued a one-page order saying Trump could testify on Jan. 22 even if the trial that starts Tuesday is over by Thursday, except for testimony by the Republican front-runner in this year's presidential race.

He said he previously denied Trump's request to delay the start of the trial by a week so Trump could attend the funeral Thursday of his mother-in-law because it would disrupt and inconvenience prospective jurors, lawyers, court staff and security, who were notified of the trial date seven months ago.

The judge also noted that he has learned that Trump, even while seeking to postpone the trial, had scheduled an evening campaign appearance on Wednesday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He said Trump's lawyers notified the judge on Friday that Trump planned to attend the trial.

A jury to be chosen Tuesday prior to opening statements will hear evidence pertaining to $10 million in compensatory damages and millions more in punitive damages requested by attorneys for columnist E. Jean Carroll.

Carroll, 80, won a $5 million sex abuse and defamation judgment in May from a civil jury that heard her testify that Trump attacked her sexually in the dressing room of a luxury department store in midtown Manhattan in spring 1996 after they had a chance meeting that was lighthearted before turning violent.

Trump did not attend that trial and has repeatedly said he never knew Carroll and believed she made up her claims to promote a 2019 memoir in which she first made them publicly and to damage him politically.

The jury rejected Carroll's claim that Trump raped her as rape is defined by New York state law but agreed that he sexually abused her in the department store and defamed her with statements he made in October 2022.

This month's trial, long delayed by appeals, stems from defamatory comments the judge said Trump made about Carroll in 2019 and last May, a day after the jury announced its verdict.

Kaplan ruled last year that the trial starting Tuesday only will pertain to damages because the prior jury's findings about sexual abuse and defamation can be accepted for purposes of the new trial.

Earlier on Sunday, Trump attorney Alina Habba objected to restrictions on Trump's testimony requested by an attorney for Carroll, saying that despite instructions already given by the judge, Trump can "still offer considerable testimony in his defense."

She noted that someone seeking punitive damages in a defamation case in New York state must show that libelous statements were made out of hatred, ill will or spite and said Trump should be allowed to offer evidence and testimony about whether hatred or ill will was behind his comments to reporters.

Habba said Trump also can testify about the circumstances of his comments and how they related to comments in Carroll's "continuous parade of interviews and publicity."

Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, asked the judge in a letter on Friday to put restrictions on Trump if he testifies so that he does not "sow chaos" or "poison these proceedings."

Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, said she feared Trump would try to flout the judge's instructions that Trump not contend in his testimony, as he frequently has with public statements on the campaign trail, that Carroll fabricated her claims against him.

In a ruling earlier this month, the judge alluded to the fact that what the jury concluded Trump did to Carroll constitutes rape in some states when he wrote that "the fact that Mr. Trump sexually abused — indeed, raped — Ms. Carroll has been conclusively established and is binding in this case."