By - Reuters
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday said Donald Trump's defamation trial over whether he raped a writer in the mid-1990s will begin as scheduled on April 25, rejecting the former president's bid for a delay but letting him learn more about how his accuser is paying her legal bills.
Trump's lawyers said they needed more time after learning from the plaintiff E. Jean Carroll's legal team that Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, was helping fund her civil case.
They said the involvement of Hoffman, a prominent Democratic donor, raised the question of whether Carroll sued Trump, a Republican, to advance a political agenda.
In a two-page order, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan said Hoffman's role had nothing directly to do with whether Trump defamed Carroll by calling her rape claim a hoax in an October 2022 post on his Truth Social platform.
But the judge said Hoffman's involvement "might prove relevant" to Carroll's credibility, after she testified under oath last October that no one else was paying her legal fees.
He said Trump's lawyers could receive documents and conduct a one-hour deposition of Carroll on the issue.
Kaplan also said: "Trial shall begin as scheduled on April 25, 2023 unless otherwise ordered."
Trump has been seeking a minimum four-week postponement, saying "prejudicial media coverage" of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's recent criminal case against him would leave that case "top of mind" for jurors.
Kaplan's order did not address that argument.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, in a statement said she was pleased the judge allowed more discovery, and that "Ms. Carroll and her attorneys will not be permitted to benefit from their failure to comply with their discovery obligations."
Lawyers for Carroll declined to comment.
They had called Trump's request irrelevant to the defamation claim, and said Trump waived the argument by earlier raising and then dropping a similar request.
Carroll's case includes a battery claim.
She also has a still-pending defamation lawsuit filed in November 2019 against Trump over his denial five months earlier that the rape took place.
Hoffman is a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners.
In a statement, Dmitri Mehlhorn, who advises Hoffman on philanthropy, said Hoffman agreed in September 2020 that some money could be allocated to Carroll's first lawsuit.
Without such support, Carroll might have joined others who have been "outgunned in court by Mr. Trump's decades-long practice of bullying and delay to avoid accountability for his actions," Mehlhorn said.
The case is Carroll v Trump, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-10016.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese)