Trump U. fraud trial: Why Trump's lawyers want campaign statements excluded

In an unusual legal request, attorneys for Donald Trump have asked a federal judge presiding over the Trump University civil trial to exclude any statements made by or about Trump during his presidential campaign.

Evan Vucci/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Regent University, Saturday in Virginia Beach, Va.

Donald Trump’s lawyers are asking a federal judge presiding over the presidential nominee’s upcoming civil trial over Trump University to bar all statements made by or about Mr. Tump during his presidential campaign.

These exclusions would include tweets, a 2005 video of him boasting about sexually assaulting women, his tax history, criticisms of his charitable foundation, and his comments about the judge presiding over the case, who is of Mexican descent.

Filed on Thursday in US District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, the request pertains to a nearly 7-year-old class-action lawsuit scheduled to begin Nov. 28, in which students at Trump University claim they were defrauded by the unaccredited school’s real estate seminars. The university closed in 2010.

In the legal filing, Trump’s lead attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, claims the evidence may prejudice the jury and jeopardize the fairness of the trial. Allowing even Trump’s own remarks, he wrote, "carries an immediate and irreparable danger of extreme and irremediable prejudice to defendants, confusion of issues and waste of time."

"Before trial begins in this case, prospective members of the jury will have the opportunity to cast their vote for president," wrote Trump's lawyers in the filing. "It is in the ballot box where they are free to judge Mr. Trump based on all this and more."

Trump's lawyers had fought to have the lawsuit, filed in 2013, dismissed altogether. While Trump did help develop the concept and curriculum for the real estate school, they argued, his staff managed the university by the time the plaintiffs purchased seminars.

The plaintiffs in the case claim that Trump University seminars and classes were like infomercials, pressuring students to spend upwards of $35,000 on mentorships. Ultimately, they argue, the university failed to teach real estate success. Similar claims have been made in another class-action complaint in San Diego and in a lawsuit in New York, where the state’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Trump in 2013 for illegal business practices, describing his university as an “elaborate bait-and-switch.”

Trump's lawyers also requested that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump has described in rallies as a “hater of Donald Trump” and as “a Mexican,” to withhold evidence about students' finances from the trial. Affordability of Trump University, they argue, is not relevant to the trial.

The Republican presidential nominee has steadfastly denied the allegations, citing positive reviews given by former customers.

In separate court filings, lawyers for the students asked to bar other evidence from the trial, including testimonials about the value of the seminars, arguing that they are irrelevant to whether the university misrepresented the qualifications of its instructors.

Judge Curiel will consider Trump's request at a hearing on November 10, two days after the election.

According to Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the School of Law at the University of California in Irvine, Judge Curiel is unlikely to rule on the breadth of material requested to be barred, and will instead consider each statement that the plaintiff wants to use at trial.

"This is unique because I cannot think of another situation in which a political candidate would have wanted to exclude all of his campaign statements from being used at a trial," Prof. Chemerinsky said.

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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