A New York jury has ordered former president Donald Trump to pay $83.3mn for defaming the writer E Jean Carroll after she accused him of sexual assault, the latest courtroom setback for the former US president who is battling multiple legal cases as he fights to return to the White House.
The verdict, which was handed down on Friday, comes atop the $5mn Trump was ordered to pay Carroll after a separate trial in May, in which a jury found that he had sexually abused, but not raped, her.
The bill could soon grow steeper, with the former president also facing potential damages upwards of $350mn in a separate fraud trial involving his family business, the Trump Organization. A New York judge is expected to issue his judgment before the end of the month.
Carroll’s lawyers had argued that Trump should pay at least $24mn in damages in the latest trial. Jurors deliberated for just a few hours before returning their decision. The award on Friday included $65mn in punitive damages, which are meant to punish or deter.
The verdict capped yet another ill-tempered trial in which the former president trampled on courtroom etiquette and provoked the ire of a respected judge. In one characteristically ornery display on Friday he stormed out of the courtroom during closing arguments.
On Friday evening Trump vowed in a post on his Truth Social social media network to appeal against the decision: “Absolutely ridiculous! . . . Our Legal System is out of control, and being used as a Political Weapon.”
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, said he believed Trump’s conduct had contributed to the jury’s decision. “He just displayed throughout the trial that he had nothing but contempt and disdain for anyone involved in it,” Tobias said, adding that it was “pretty obvious he wasn’t chastised and hadn’t taken to heart the previous case”.
The defamation trial is among a welter of legal challenges against Trump, ranging from the way he operated his business to his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
Even though they threaten potentially steep fines and prison time, Trump’s legal troubles do not appear to have cooled the ardour of Republican voters, who handed him a decisive victory in New Hampshire and Iowa nominating contests, cementing his status as a frontrunner to become his party’s presidential candidate in 2024.
Carroll, a former magazine writer, came forward in 2019 to accuse Trump of raping her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store sometime around 1996. She filed suit after the then-president responded by calling her “a con job” and insisting he had never met her.
The most recent trial was to consider what damages, if any, Trump should be forced to pay for a separate set of statements he made about Carroll in 2019, while he was in the White House, including the claim that she had fabricated her story in order to sell a book. The judge, Lewis Kaplan, had previously determined that Trump had defamed Carroll.
“I am here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it he lied and he shattered my reputation,” Carroll, 80, told jurors when she testified as Trump looked on, shaking his head and scowling.
Her lawyer, Shawn Crowley, accused Trump of using “the biggest microphone on the planet” to attack Carroll while serving as president. Crowley showed the jury violent threats that had been made against her by his followers on social media, and noted that Carroll now sleeps with a gun nearby.
Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, countered that Carroll had been using the allegations against her client to raise her profile and garner attention. Trump, meanwhile, dismissed the trial as yet another attempt to derail his campaign.
The nine jurors selected for the trial were forced to undertake extraordinary security precautions, given the heated atmosphere surrounding the former president. At one point Kaplan threatened to ban Trump from the courtroom for speaking too loudly while seated at the defence table. “I would love that,” he retorted.
Trump, who was a frequent presence in the courtroom during the proceedings, took the stand on Thursday to testify, to much anticipation. But under strict limitations from Kaplan about what he could say, the testimony lasted just a few brief minutes, in which Trump said his intention was not to hurt Carroll, but “to defend myself, my family and in fact the presidency”.
As he left the courtroom on Thursday, he fumed: “This is not America.”