Donald Trump has won a victory in his legal battle against an author and New York Times reporter who had the temerity to label the mogul a mere millionaire.
In November, Trump's lawyers sent a subpoena to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. seeking to question him about an e-mail exchange with reporter Timothy L. O'Brien, author of the 2005 biography
TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald
In the exchange, O'Brien predicted that Trump would "go ballistic" over portions of the book, including an assertion that the Donald's net worth was actually from $150 million to $250 million, an amount not in keeping with Trump's billionaire persona.
Sulzberger sought to quash the subpoena, but this month the New York Supreme Court said he must submit to a deposition.
Trump's defamation lawsuit against O'Brien and the book's publishers was filed in Superior Court in Camden County by Brown & Connery, the politically connected Westmont firm.
The celebrity dealmaker is suing for $5 billion, saying that being labeled a millionaire hurt his "brand and reputation" and undermined the "perception of Trump as a businessman of extraordinary means and ability (which he is)."
In a statement Thursday, partner William Tambussi said his firm would "proceed vigorously" to depose Sulzberger and move to trial.
"The New York Supreme Court ruled that even the publisher of the New York Times is not shielded from the legal process when it comes to his knowledge of Timothy O'Brien's actual malice toward Donald Trump," Tambussi said.
Trump is not suing the Times, though the paper published an excerpt of the book.
A spokeswoman for the Times said yesterday that the paper had no comment on the ruling. O'Brien's attorney was on vacation yesterday and did not return a message left at his office.
To win his suit, Trump must prove that O'Brien had "actual malice," meaning that he published statements he knew were untrue or that he had "reckless disregard" for their truth.
O'Brien has stood by the veracity of his book.
Trump's attorneys believe Sulzberger could shed some light on that matter. They also subpoenaed Times executive editor Bill Keller and business editor Lawrence Ingrassia.
The New York Supreme Court quashed Keller's subpoena. Ingrassia did not challege his subpoena, the court said.
The court ruled that Sulzberger could be questioned only on his e-mail exchange with O'Brien and a 2005 lunch he attended with Trump and O'Brien.
The e-mails began with Sulzberger's praising O'Brien's book, which he said he read while trekking to Machu Picchu in Peru.
O'Brien replied that "Donald is easy to lampoon, but harder to portray accurately (and deep down inside he's really sort of likable - in the way that endearing but out-of-control 8-year-olds are likable)."
When Sulzberger asked if O'Brien had gotten feedback from Trump, O'Brien said he had not, but predicted that Trump would go ballistic.
"He did see the cover art about six months ago and called to tell me: 'I loooovvve this. I look like some kind of superhero. Like a Marvel superhero. I loooovvve it,' " O'Brien responded.