On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel holds a pre-trial hearing in a class-action lawsuit over the now-defunct Trump University. The trial, at which Trump could testify, is set to begin November 28.
The 2010 lawsuit, which Reuters notes is one of three over the business venture, “was filed on behalf of students who say they were lured by false promises to pay up to $35,000 to learn Trump’s real estate investing ‘secrets’ from his ‘hand-picked’ instructors. Trump owned 92 percent of Trump University and had control over all major decisions, the students’ court papers say.”
Trump University “playbooks,” unsealed in June, exposed how employees were instructed to “[prey] upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money,” as one former sales manager put it.
Indiana-born Curiel, who is presiding over two of the three cases, was this summer the target of racist vitriol from Trump, who said the judge should recuse himself based on his “Mexican heritage”—which Trump said presented a conflict of interest due to the candidate’s own repeated vows to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Associated Press reported of Thursday’s hearing:
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Meanwhile, other cases are pending. Vanity Fair reported:
And the Daily Beast adds to the tally:
“This is an extremely unusual situation,” Stephen Kaufman, who specializes in political and election law, told Bloomberg. “Certainly no presidential candidate in modern times has potentially come to the office of president with such a litigation cloud hanging over his head.”
While sitting presidents are shielded from litigation over acts made in an official capacity, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that presidents can still be sued for events that happened before they took office or are unrelated to their presidential duties.
“Taking the office would not protect Mr. Trump from lawsuits that have been filed against him already or lawsuits that could be filed against him for civil matters that arose before he became President,” Kaufman said, before acknowledging that “there would be a mountain of logistical issues in trying to pursue” such claims.
Still, should the Trump University case not turn in the president-elect’s favor—and as the San Diego Union-Tribune points out, jury composition will be an important factor—the implications could be serious.
As University of Utah law professor Christopher L. Peterson argued in a recent analysis (pdf): “In the United States, it is illegal for businesses to use false statements to convince consumers to purchase their services. The evidence indicates that Trump University used a systemic pattern of fraudulent representations to trick thousands of families into investing in a program that can be argued was a sham.”
And, Peterson continued: “Fraud and racketeering are serious crimes that legally rise to the level of impeachable acts.”
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