Former Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll watches as Joe Tacopina, lawyer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, makes closing arguments during a civil trial where Carroll accuses Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s, and of defamation, New York, May 8, 2023.
Jane Rosenberg | Reuters
Lawyers for Donald Trump on Thursday asked a federal judge to order a retrial on the question of monetary damages for a lawsuit accusing the former president of sexually assaulting writer E. Jean Carroll, or to sharply reduce the $5 million award a civil trial jury ordered for her last month.
Trump’s request leans heavily on the fact the jury did not find, as Carroll had alleged in her lawsuit, that Trump raped her in a New York department store in the mid-1990s. It instead found he was liable for sexually abusing her.
Trump’s lawyers argued the $2 million in damages awarded to Carroll are “grossly excessive under applicable case law.”
“Such abuse could have included groping of the Plaintiff’s breasts through clothing or similar conduct, which is a far cry from rape,” wrote Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina in the motion to Judge Lewis Kaplan.
Tacopina argued any damages that Carroll, 79, receives for the alleged abuse should be in the “low six-figure range” that is consistent with what he said is New York law, and with prior awards to plaintiffs “whose intimate parts were groped by a defendant.”
Tacopina also wrote the $2.7 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded Carroll for Trump’s defamatory statements about her allegations “was based on pure speculation” about the purported reputational harm she suffered from his comments.
“New York courts have consistently held that compensatory damage awards of $100,000 or less for defamation claims are appropriate,” Tacopina wrote.
He said the damages for defamation should be no more than $368,000.
Carroll’s attorney in a statement scoffed at Trump’s argument, and noted the jury unanimously found he sexually abused Carroll.
“Trump now argues that, even if he did those things, Ms. Carroll doesn’t deserve the $5 million in damages that the jury awarded,” said Carroll’s lawyer, Robbie Kaplan.
“But Trump’s arguments are frivolous — the jury carefully considered the evidence that Ms. Carroll presented, and Trump did not put on a single witness of his own,” said the lawyer, who is not related to the judge. “This time, Trump will not be able to escape the consequences of his actions.”
Carroll testified that Trump, 76, raped her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan after a chance encounter.
Trump has repeatedly denied the claim and said Carroll had invented it.
Trump, who is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is appealing the jury’s verdict at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
Carroll has a separate Manhattan federal court lawsuit pending against Trump. It alleges he defamed her while he was serving as president in 2019, when she first went public with her claim of rape in a June 2019 New York Magazine article. Trump at that time said Carroll was lying, and that she was motivated both by political animus toward him and a desire to boost sales of a book that included details of her allegations.
That suit has been delayed due to questions of whether Trump could be held civilly liable for statements he made as president, in contrast to his statements about Carroll last fall, which he made as a private citizen.
Carroll late last month asked Judge Kaplan for permission to amend that lawsuit to include claims of “very substantial monetary damages” against Trump for scathing comments he made about her at a CNN town hall a day after he lost the other lawsuit. Carroll is seeking no less than $10 million from Trump in the pending lawsuit.
Trump during the town hall said he did not sexually abuse Carroll and has no idea who Carroll was. He said Carroll’s claim was a “fake” and “made-up story” created by a “whack job.”
“Trump also insulted Carroll’s character and downplayed his sexual abuse of her by asking ‘what kind of woman meets someone’ and then ‘within minutes’ plays ‘hanky-panky in a dressing room,'” the amended complaint says.
“Trump’s defamatory statements post-verdict show the depth of his malice toward Carroll since it is hard to imagine defamatory conduct that could possibly be more motivated by hatred, ill will, or spite,” the proposed complaint said.
The judge has not yet ruled on Carroll’s request to amend her lawsuit.