May 26th, 2020

Law & Order

Attorneys want a judge to force Trump to testify in a suit stemming from 2015 incident

Deanna Paul

By Deanna Paul The Washington Post

Published Feb. 1, 2019

Attorneys want a judge to force Trump to testify in a suit stemming from 2015 incident
Five protesters who allege President Donald Trump's security team assaulted them in 2015 have subpoenaed the president to testify at trial.

The case was brought against six defendants, including then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, the Trump Organization and Trump security director Keith Schiller, three months after Trump announced his candidacy.

New York law is clear: A defendant must appear in court when subpoenaed for trial testimony.

But Trump's legal team, two weeks after receiving the subpoena, advised plaintiffs' attorneys that Trump intended to disobey it. According to a letter dated Jan. 11, Trump was "rejecting" the subpoena.

In a Wednesday court filing, plaintiffs' attorneys asked Bronx Supreme Court Judge Fernando Tapia to compel Trump's attendance; the trial is scheduled for March 6.

"The law gives plaintiffs a right to the testimony of every defendant in the case. By our motion today, we have asked the court to secure that right and affirm the principle that no one, including defendant Trump, is above the law," said Roger Bernstein and Benjamin Dictor, attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit stems from a September 2015 incident, when Efrain Galicia and four other Mexican demonstrators were confronted outside Trump Tower. The men had gone to protest after the Trump campaign announced that their home country was funneling rapists and drug runners into the United States, according to court documents reviewed by The Washington Post.

Two of the protesters were dressed as Ku Klux Klan members - in white hoods and robes, a reference to self-proclaimed white supremacist David Duke's endorsement of Trump - and carried signs that read, "Trump: make America racist again," the documents said.

Schiller, then-director of security for the Trump Organization, snatched two of the signs from the men, according to court documents. A struggle ensued, ending with Schiller, a former New York City police officer, violently striking Galicia, who went to the hospital.

Several news outlets aired a surveillance video on television and on social media of a security guard punching a protester, who had attempted to retrieve his sign, The Post previously reported.

Trump tried to argue that he was not involved and, therefore, not personally responsible, but Judge Tapia rebuffed the attempt to distance himself from the lawsuit. In August, Tapia ruled that a jury could find that Trump "authorized and condoned" the guards' conduct.

(The judge based his decision, in part, on a statement made by Trump at a campaign rally, which he buried in a footnote: "Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing," Trump said, according to the judge's August decision.)

In the Jan. 11 letter, Trump attorney Lawrence Rosen claimed Trump did not need to testify, the argument was twofold.

Tapia's decision about Trump's trial testimony will largely be guided by a defamation case pending in New York's appellate court. The appeal - which involves Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice" who accused Trump of groping and kissing her in 2007 - will determine whether a sitting president can be sued in state court for pre-election conduct. If the judge rules in Trump's favor, the demonstrators' case would become moot.

Rosen further alleged that the plaintiffs had also waived the right to call Trump as a trial witness and should have taken Trump's deposition - by video and from the White House - during the discovery phase.

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Deanna Paul covers national and breaking news for The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, she spent six years as a New York City prosecutor.

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