US judge upholds Trump's $83.3 million defamation loss, rejects new trial

Former U.S. President Trump's criminal trial on charges of falsifying business records continues in New York

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A federal judge on Thursday rejected Donald Trump's bid to throw out an $83.3 million defamation verdict in favor of the writer E. Jean Carroll, who said the former U.S. president defamed her after she accused him of raping her decades ago.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan denied Trump's requests for a new trial, or to have the former Elle magazine advice columnist's case thrown out altogether.

He also dismissed arguments that the jury's award to Carroll following Trump's "malicious and unceasing attacks" was too high, and that errors at the civil trial tainted the verdict.

Trump is appealing the verdict, and plans to appeal Thursday's decision.

"We categorically disagree with Judge Kaplan's decision," his lawyer Alina Habba said in a statement. "It ignores long-standing constitutional principles and is a prime example of the lawfare raging across this country."

Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Carroll, said she was not surprised by the decision, and said the $83.3 million award was "entirely reasonable." She is not related to the judge.

Trump is the Republican presidential candidate in the 2024 election, and also a defendant in four criminal cases, including an ongoing hush money trial.

In the Jan. 26 verdict, jurors agreed with Carroll that Trump defamed her in June 2019 by denying that he had raped her in the mid-1990s in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan.

Jurors awarded Carroll $18.3 million of compensatory damages for emotional and reputational harm, plus $65 million of punitive damages.

Trump's lawyers argued that the judge instructed jurors improperly about the burden of proof needed to show malice, and erred in striking testimony about his state of mind.

According to the lawyers, Trump's testimony that "I just wanted to defend myself, my family, and frankly, the presidency" was relevant to whether he had acted maliciously, and that excluding it "all but assured" a big punitive damages award.

But the judge said Trump's attacks had been seen by more than 100 million people, and that Trump defamed Carroll with out-of-court statements even during the trial.

He also said Trump "put his hatred and disdain on full display" in the courtroom, including by muttering that the proceedings were a "witch hunt" and "con job," and walking out as Carroll's lawyer made her closing argument.

"On this exceptional record, the punitive damages evidence passes constitutional muster," Judge Kaplan wrote.

Last May, a different jury ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million over an October 2022 denial of Carroll's accusations, finding he had defamed and sexually abused her. Trump is also appealing that verdict.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)