Why Trump U suits will move forward, without videos of testimony

Judge Gonzalo Curiel said in a decision Tuesday that public interest in videos of Donald Trump's testimony about the program didn't outweigh concerns about biasing a jury.

Bebeto Matthews/AP/File
Donald Trump listens as Michael Sexton introduces him at a news conference announcing the establishment of Trump University in New York in May 2005. On Tuesday, a federal judge overseeing two class action suits against the real estate training program allowed the suits to go forward, but dismissed a request for the release of videos of Mr. Trump testifying about Trump University.

In the ongoing saga of the now-defunct Trump University, the federal judge who Donald Trump lambasted as a “hater” has given Mr. Trump both temporary relief and a possibly looming worry.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel declined to release video of Trump testifying in a lawsuit filed by former Trump University students, a relief to Trump’s lawyers, who had argued the videos could be used for attack ads as Trump heads toward the November election.

But he also rejected their bid to dismiss the suit entirely, allowing it to move to trial after the election. In a written decision released Tuesday, Curiel said the former students had raised a genuine question about whether the real estate magnate had “knowingly participated in a scheme to defraud.”

Trump and his lawyers have long denied the claims against Trump University, saying they came only from a small group of unhappy students, the The New York Times reports.

Trump has said that “98 percent of of the people who took the courses ... thought they were terrific.” But the lawsuit and some former students have said that they felt pressure from Trump University’s instructors to provide positive evaluations of the program.

“It was a con,” former student Ryan Maddings told the Daily Beast. Mr. Maddings, an ex-Marine, said he been encouraged by representatives of Trump University to max out his credit cards to pay for seminars and products, racking up $45,000 in credit card debt in the process.

The videos have emerged as a significant issue in the case, in federal court in San Diego. Attorneys for the students have said that Trump's tone, facial expressions, gestures, and body language show “complete and utter unfamiliarity” with instructors and what was taught at the real-estate training program, the Associated Press reports.

That contradicts Trump’s claims that he hand-picked instructors and was actively involved in the program.They also say Trump made “many spontaneous and ad hominem remarks that are not reflected in the paper transcript of his depositions,” some of which have been released.

Judge Curiel, however, wrote that “while there is a degree of legitimate public interest in the demeanor of the defendant in the deposition videos,” that did not outweigh the potential effects media scrutiny of the footage would have on a jury, the AP reports.

Many news organizations have also taken an interest in the release of the videos showing Trump talking about the program, which the students have alleged used high-pressure sales tactics and made deceptive claims about what they would gain from it, using Trump’s name as enticement.

Trump’s attorneys, by contrast, argued that Curiel should follow the approach of a federal judge in a case involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email practices. In that case, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan in the District of Columbia allowed the release of transcripts from depositions, but not video, the AP reports.

As Curiel allowed the case to move forward, setting a trial date of Nov. 28 in one of the two lawsuits he is overseeing, that also sets Trump up to face a federal RICO case, which could impose a significant financial penalty, The Atlantic reports.

Trump has harshly criticized the judge, including calling him a “hater of Donald Trump” and describing the Indiana-born judge as “Mexican,” drawing criticism from Republican leaders

A third case against Trump University brought by New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is also heading to trial after a hearing Tuesday.

Curiel noted on Tuesday that while he was allowing the case to move forward, he was not passing judgment on the students’ allegations. “The Court does not engage in credibility determinations, weighing of evidence, or drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts; these functions are for the [jury],” he wrote.

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