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Civil Lawsuits Against Donald Trump Will Be Part Of First 100 Days

November 11, 2016

Donald Trump will enter his presidency with an unprecedented number of civil lawsuits, which cannot be set aside or delayed simply by virtue of being President of the United States.  To understand Trump’s situation, some perspective can be found by first looking at litigation involving other presidents-elect and presidents.   Here is a quick historical look at how other presidents dealt with such matters.
Four presidents have been forced to deal with civil lawsuits which they carried into the Oval Office: Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. For three of them, the lawsuits were quickly disposed of, but for Bill Clinton, his lawsuit nearly cost him his presidency. Let’s look at each.
Theodore Roosevelt: Before becoming vice president (which would result in his becoming president some six months later when President William McKinley was assassinated in September, 1901) Theodore Roosevelt was sued as chairman of the New York City Police Department by John Hurley, a disgruntled patrolman, who had been dismissed. Hurley lost but continued appealing the case, which was not finally disposed of until Roosevelt was serving as president in 1904. (See Hurley v. Roosevelt, 71 N.E. 1137 (N.Y. 1904), the case was dismissed without an opinion.)
Harry Truman: In 1931, while Harry Truman was serving as a judge in Jackson County, Missouri, he and other judges ruled that Roy DeVault, an attorney, was insane, and they had him committed to an insane asylum. Believing he had been improperly committed, DeVault filed an action against then-U.S. Senator Harry Truman in 1944, just as the latter was elected vice president alongside Franklin Roosevelt. The trial court granted Truman’s motion to dismiss, and DeVault appealed. With the President Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Truman became President. One year later, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the dismissal. (See DeVault v. Truman, 194 S.W.2d 29 (Mo. 1946).)
John Kennedy: During the 1960 presidential campaign an automobile accident in California resulted in two companion lawsuits being filed in late October 1960 against candidate John F. Kennedy. After he assumed office his lawyers argued for a stay, based on his status as Commander in Chief, but the request was denied without a written opinion and the cases were settled out of court. (See complaints in Bailey v. Kennedy, No. 757200, and Hills v. Kennedy, No. 757201, filed October 27, 1960 in California Superior Court.)
Bill Clinton: In May 1991 Paula Jones, who worked for the State of Arkansas, was acting as a receptionist at a conference being held at a Little Rock hotel. She later claimed that while on this assignment a security guard for Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton informed her the governor would like to see her in his suite, where she was ushered. Upon arriving, she claimed Governor Clinton dropped his pants and requested a sexual favor. Years later she hired a lawyer, who offered to settle with then-President Clinton, and when he refused she filed a lawsuit in May 1994. President Clinton responded by requesting the court delay the lawsuit until his term in office as president had ended, seeking temporary immunity.
Clinton vs. Jones went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously (9-0) held in May 1997 that a sitting president has no immunity from civil litigation involving actions undertaken before entering office. Thus, discovery depositions in the case went forward, and soon the Jones case became intertwined with the president’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, as well as the ongoing investigations of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
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