E. Jean Carroll won a partial victory in her defamation lawsuit against former President Trump on Wednesday, with the judge ruling a trial is needed only to determine how much Trump must pay the writer in damages.
In a significant blow for Trump, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled Trump defamed Carroll by making false statements with actual malice in June 2019 when she came forward with accusations that Trump sexually assaulted her years earlier.
Kaplan ruled that a jury’s May verdict in Carroll’s other lawsuit against Trump, which found him liable for the assault itself and defaming Carroll last fall, is controlling in the case.
“[T]he jury found that Mr. Trump knew that his statement that Ms. Carroll lied about him sexually assaulting her for improper and ulterior purposes was false or that he acted with reckless disregard to whether it was false,” Kaplan wrote. “Whether Mr. Trump made the 2019 statements with actual malice raises the same issue.”
A trial is set to begin in New York on Jan. 15 — the same day as the Iowa Republican caucus — and Kaplan’s ruling means the trial is only needed to consider how much Trump owes Carroll in damages.
Carroll is suing Trump for defamation over his three initial denials of her story when the longtime advice columnist came forward publicly. It comprised a written statement given to reporters, comments Trump made on the South Lawn and an interview he gave The Hill at the White House three days after the allegation was first published.
While the case was held up over immunity issues, Carroll earlier this year took Trump to trial in her second lawsuit.
That jury ultimately sided with Carroll, finding that Trump sexually abused the longtime advice columnist in a New York City department store in 1996 and defamed her in an October 2022 statement that denied her story.
Trump is actively appealing that verdict, known as Carroll II. But after it was handed down, Carroll began arguing that the verdict automatically makes Trump liable in her earlier lawsuit.
The judge on Wednesday agreed, ruling that Trump defamed Carroll when making the first two statements at issue, though he did not find Trump automatically liable for his interview with The Hill.
“We remain very confident that the Carroll II verdict will be overturned on appeal, which will render this decision moot,” said Alina Habba, Trump’s legal spokesperson who represents him in the case. “We also anticipate that the Second Circuit will stay this trial as it considers the meritorious defenses that have been raised by President Trump.”
Trump’s attorneys had argued in court filings that the substance of Trump’s 2019 statements differed from the one the jury found him liable.
“The truth or falsity of Mr. Trump’s 2019 statements therefore depends — like the truth or falsity of his 2022 statement — on whether Ms. Carroll lied about Mr. Trump sexually assaulting her,” Kaplan wrote in Wednesday’s ruling. “The jury’s finding that she did not therefore is binding in this case and precludes Mr. Trump from contesting the falsity of his 2019 statements. Mr. Trump’s contrary arguments are all unpersuasive.”
Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, celebrated the ruling.
“We look forward to trial limited to damages for the original defamatory statements Donald Trump made about our client E Jean Carroll in 2019,” Kaplan said in a statement.
The January trial is one of multiple the former president is scheduled to face in the coming months as he campaigns to return to the White House.
Trump is trying to delay a scheduled Oct. 2 civil fraud trial in New York. In March, he faces criminal trials in D.C. over his efforts following the 2020 election and in New York over a hush money payment. In May, he is set to go on trial in Florida over his handling of classified documents.
He also faces a criminal trial in Georgia related to the 2020 election, though a date has not yet been scheduled.
Updated at 12:05 p.m.