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Trump Defamation Damages Trial Suspended Monday


In this courtroom sketch, Jan 22, 2024, Donald Trump seated next to his attorney Alina Habba, foreground right, in court listening to Judge Lewis Kaplan explain to the jury that a fellow juror's illness forced a last-minute delay in Federal Court, in New York.
In this courtroom sketch, Jan 22, 2024, Donald Trump seated next to his attorney Alina Habba, foreground right, in court listening to Judge Lewis Kaplan explain to the jury that a fellow juror's illness forced a last-minute delay in Federal Court, in New York.

Writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against former U.S. President Donald Trump was suspended Monday after one of the jurors called in sick.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan told lawyers for Carroll and Trump that one of the nine jurors hearing the case was on his way to court when he began to feel flulike symptoms and called the court to report he was feeling ill.

One of Trump’s lawyers, Alina Habba, also said she had been exposed to Covid after visiting with her parents a few days ago and was not feeling well, but she and another Trump attorney tested negative for Covid at the courthouse.

It was not immediately clear when the case might be heard again, with Habba asking that it not be resumed until Wednesday because of Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in the northeastern state of New Hampshire. Polling there shows Trump, trying to reclaim the White House, holds a substantial edge over his last remaining challenger, Nikki Haley, his one-time ambassador to the United Nations.

Trump has said he wants to testify in the Carroll case and had left the campaign trail to be in the courtroom when the proceeding was suspended. Carroll’s lawyer said she wanted to continue again on Tuesday, with Kaplan saying he would decide later.

Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate, has long disparaged the claims of Carroll, a one-time advice columnist for Elle magazine, in social media posts and at campaign events.

But Kaplan has ruled that if Trump testifies, he cannot dispute her account of the attack, since a jury in a related case last year already decided that he sexually abused her after a chance encounter at the posh Bergdorf Goodman store and awarded her $5 million in damages.

The case last year stemmed from Trump’s disparagement of Carroll in 2022 comments, while the case set to be decided now by the nine-member jury dates to comments he made in 2019 while he was president, just after Carroll had published a book in which she recounted her accusations.

Trump said then that Carroll, now 80, was “totally lying” and that he could not have raped her because she was not his “type.”

Carroll testified last week, “It means I’m too ugly to assault.”

The jury is tasked only with deciding what damages, if any, Carroll is entitled to because of Trump’s 2019 comments. With the limitations on his testimony, it was not clear exactly how Trump might defend himself. She is seeking $10 million or more.

Trump, 77, has alternated trips to the New York courtroom with campaign swings through New Hampshire.

He has treated the court case like a campaign stop, holding news conferences at the end of the day to attack Carroll’s claims and Kaplan as biased against him.

“They are weaponizing law enforcement at a level like never before,” Trump said Sunday night at a New Hampshire rally, adding, “You know where I’m going to be. I don’t have to be there, but I want to be there because otherwise, I can’t get a fair shake. I’m going to be in court.”

The Carroll defamation claims are in a civil case, and Trump faces no threat of imprisonment. But he does face an unprecedented 91 criminal charges across four indictments in cases that could go to trial this year.

As Carroll testified last week, her attorneys complained to Kaplan that Trump was making disparaging side comments about her to his lawyers that the jury, seated fewer than 4 meters away, could possibly hear.

The complaints by Carroll’s lawyers led to a contentious exchange between Trump and the judge.

Kaplan told Trump that his right to be at the trial would be revoked if he continued to ignore warnings to keep his comments to his lawyers quieter and out of earshot of the jury.

But after an initial warning, Carroll's lawyer said Trump could still be heard making remarks to his lawyers, including, "It is a witch hunt" and "It really is a con job."

After excusing the jury for lunch, Kaplan told Trump, “I hope I don't have to consider excluding you from the trial. I understand you're probably eager for me to do that."

"I would love it," Trump shot back, shrugging as he sat at the defense table between Habba and another of his lawyers, Michael Madaio.

"I know you would like it. You just can't control yourself in this circumstance, apparently," Kaplan responded.

"You can't either," Trump muttered.

As Trump watched, Carroll told the jurors, "I'm here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened. He lied and shattered my reputation.”

Once, Carroll testified, she was a respected advice columnist. "Now, I'm known as the liar, the fraud and the whack job."

Trump made repeated disparaging comments about Carroll on his Truth Social platform in the days leading up to the trial.

Carroll testified last week, "He has continued to lie. He lied last month. He lied on Sunday. He lied yesterday."