A chef wasn’t happy, and Donald Trump decided to sue.
Trump left the campaign trail in June to testify under oath after he sued two chefs who had pulled out of opening restaurants inside the new Trump Hotel in Washington. They were upset with Trump after he referred to Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminals and rapists.”
And when Trump assumes the presidency, he could be pulled from the White House to address his plethora of lawsuits, both as a defendant and plaintiff.
“Donald Trump attracts litigation like flies to manure,” said University of Chicago professor Joseph Isenbergh, an expert on the impeachment process, before the election. “If Donald Trump were to be president, there’s little doubt in my mind that he would be subject to a barrage of lawsuits.”
Donald Trump attracts litigation like flies to manure.
University of Chicago professor Joseph Isenbergh
Trump lawyer Dan Petrocelli filed a motion in San Diego federal court on Saturday to delay the class-action fraud lawsuit against the now-defunct university so Trump can focus on transitioning to the White House.
The trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 28 and Trump’s team wants the president-elect to testify by video instead of appearing in person.
Mark Rozell, an expert on executive privilege and the Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, said ongoing lawsuits are “unprecedented” for a president-elect.
“President-elect or president, he’s not above the law and is subject to civil suits like any other American,” Rozell said.
He called Trump’s latest filing an excuse to “delay and delay.”
“Are they seriously trying to say that the duties of the transition are more onerous than president?” Rozell said. “If he’s too busy now to answer a civil trial, wait until he’s president.”
Presidents have immunity for actions they take as chief executive, as decided in the 1982 Supreme Court case Nixon v. Fitzgerald, so Trump could not be sued for actions such as building a wall at the Mexican border.
“If the grievance is with something official the president has done, no civil lawsuit is possible,” said National Constitution Center scholar-in-residence Michael Gerhardt.
But a court decision in response to Bill Clinton’s sex scandals opened the door for a president to be sued for private actions that occurred before assuming the presidency.
Former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones sued Clinton alleging sexual harassment over a 1991 incident in a Little Rock hotel. The Supreme Court ruled the suit could proceed while Clinton was in office, setting a precedent that sitting presidents can be sued if the act occurred before taking office – or is unrelated to the presidency, like a divorce.
Isenbergh argues the Supreme Court’s decision that allowed Jones to sue Clinton could have disastrous implications during a Trump presidency.
“The Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones succumbed to obvious political correctness,” Isenbergh said. “Here is a woman suing a man for sexual harassment. That explains why progressives or liberals went that way, and conservatives just jumped on it.”
Isenbergh said conservatives such as Justice Antonin Scalia ignored the constitutional questions of Clinton v. Jones because the case hurt Clinton politically.
Rozell takes a different view, noting that Clinton’s attorneys tried to argue that the “demands of the office are so onerous, that it would debilitate the institution of the presidency to have a president subject to civil law suits” but the Supreme Court ruled against him.
“Scalia said, ‘You have several hours on the golf course and you don’t have time for a civil suit?’ ” Rozell said.
Trump should be immune from lawsuits as president, Isenbergh argues, because Trump’s web of business dealings could make it impossible for him to run the country if he’s stuck in court – and his litany of vocal opponents could use legal action to make it harder for him to govern the country.
Isenbergh’s proposed judicial immunity doesn’t mean Trump would get a free pass for his outstanding lawsuits, however. Instead, the civil suits could be held until Trump was no longer president. Or the House of Representatives could initiate impeachment proceedings if Trump committed a grave offense in office.
“The president is not above the law, because of impeachment and because of the possibility the court can hold the suit in abeyance until the president leaves office,” Isenbergh said.
In theory, a judge could declare Trump in contempt if he failed to show up for a court appearance and throw him in jail, which is a problem because presidents still hold executive power unless they are impeached or incapacitated.
“Even from a jail cell the president . . . can still whip out the nuclear codes and decide to bomb the U.K.,” Isenbergh said. “The Supreme Court simply got this principle 180 degrees wrong.”
This story is an updated version of a story that was published on October 17, 2016. You can view the original here.
McClatchy DC staff writer Lesley Clark contributed to this report.