Class Fights President-Elect’s Bid to Delay Trump University Fraud Trial

By BIANCA BRUNO

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Former Trump University students did not mince words in an opposition filed Monday regarding President-elect Donald Trump’s request to delay trial of the class action against his former real estate school, calling the request a “slippery slope” and arguing his election win does not change the legal standard for moving the case forward.

Citing the need to prepare for becoming president, Donald Trump filed a formal request with a federal judge Saturday that asks to delay the first Trump University trial.

“This is an unprecedented circumstance,” Trump’s lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli wrote in an ex parte application for a continuance.

Trump is the first person ever elected U.S. president while facing class action lawsuits accusing him of fraud.

In their 12-page response filed Monday, Sonny Low and the other plaintiffs scoffed at Trump’s insistence the trial be delayed until after his Jan. 20 inauguration. The plaintiffs said Trump should not require an additional opportunity to record his testimony since he already did so on two separate occasions, totaling more than 10 hours of videotaped sworn testimony that can be used during the trial.

“The legal standard for moving a trial date is the same for defendant Trump, candidate Trump and President-elect Trump: he must establish good cause. Because President-elect Trump has failed to suggest, let alone establish, a single admissible fact that he will be unable to present at the currently scheduled trial, he has failed to establish good cause for delay,” the class said.

They also pointed out since Trump already acknowledged he could testify before his inauguration, that means he is available to testify at the Nov. 28 trial.

“Conceding that he can afford to set aside a day in January 2017 to testify in this case is the same as conceding that he can set aside a day in early December to do so. Since Trump has complete control over when he makes what decisions, he can simply shift his schedule one day, testify, and then pick up with the transition process right where he left off,” the plaintiffs say.

Trump could either testify live or submit his prior deposition video to be used during the trial, Low and the others said. But the president-elect’s “modest” request to delay the trial until “who knows” follows multiple attempts this year by Trump and his legal team to throw the trial off course, the plaintiffs claim. Many of the plaintiffs – including Low – are senior citizens, a fact U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has pointed out several times in emphasizing the need to resolve the case as soon as possible.

“This trial, like so many Trump University student-victims’ credit card bills, is past due,” the plaintiffs say.

In a 5-page response filed just hours later on Monday afternoon, Petrocelli said Trump does need to be deposed again because his original deposition consisted only of cross-examination by the plaintiffs’ attorneys and no questions by his own legal team.

Petrocelli first gave notice to Curiel at a Thursday hearing that the president-elect would ask for a trial delay.

At the hearing, Petrocelli told Curiel that his client was not requesting an indefinite delay of the trial, but said a trial date in February or March 2017 would allow the president-elect to prepare for his inauguration on Jan. 20.

The written request did not indicate if Trump would in fact seek a spring 2017 trial, or one at a later date during his presidency.

Curiel months ago set the trial to begin after the election and before inauguration, to accommodate a potential President-elect Trump.

Low et al. sued Trump in 2010 on behalf of thousands of former Trump University students who paid $35,000 or more to learn real estate secrets from instructors purportedly handpicked by Trump. Trump turned out to have little involvement in the school, which his attorneys said relied on “sales puffery,” common in advertising, to capitalize on Trump’s name.

In Petrocelli’s filing, he asked for the Nov. 28 trial to be continued to an unspecified date after Trump’s inauguration “that is convenient for the parties and the court.”

He also requested authorization for Trump’s videotaped testimony to be shown in place of an in-person appearance in both the Low and Cohen v. Trump cases.

If Curiel denies Trump’s request to delay the trial, Petrocelli asked for a temporary stay of proceedings so he can seek emergency relief.

Petrocelli said the days between now and the inauguration are “critical and all-consuming” and will require the president-elect to “receive daily security briefings, make executive appointments (ultimately, thousands), and establish relationships with appointees, members of Congress, governors and foreign leaders.”

If Trump is required to prepare and testify for the Nov. 28 trial, it “would take him away from imperative transition work at a critical time,” Petrocelli wrote.

Trump would be available to make a videotaped deposition sometime in January and the tapes could be used in both federal class actions in San Diego, Petrocelli said.

“The videotaped testimony will ensure no additional delay of trial based on future scheduling unpredictability. The breathing room also will permit the parties to explore alternative methods of resolving both cases,” the filing states.

Curiel suggested at the Thursday hearing that it “would be wise” for both parties to try to settle the case, and noted the “possibility of millions and millions of dollars at stake.”

Petrocelli and the plaintiffs’ attorney Patrick Coughlin both indicated they are open to meeting with U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller to discuss settling the 6½-year-old case, though Coughlin told reporters the parties have never been close to settling.

The Constitution requires the courts to exercise “judicial deference and restraint” to work with the president on case scheduling and testimonial obligations, Petrocelli said, as does the precedent of Clinton v. Jones, in which President Bill Clinton sought to stay a civil case brought against him until his presidency was over.

Paula Jones sued Clinton while he was president, claiming he had sexually assaulted her while he was governor of Arkansas. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a sitting president has no immunity from claims arising from acts taken before taking office and unrelated to the office.

In that case, “the Supreme Court held that federal courts must afford the ‘utmost deference’ to the truly ‘singular’ nature of the Office of the President of the United States,” Petrocelli wrote. “We respectfully request that the court grant the requested relief forthwith.”

Petrocelli says this also applies to the president-elect. He also cited the Presidential Transition Act of 1963: “Any disruption occasioned by the transfer of the executive power could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States and its people.”

He adds: “President-elect Trump’s duties and privileges as the future president thus commenced the moment he was elected.”

Since Trump will be building his administration “from the ground up,” for the plaintiffs and the court to require the president-elect “to defend himself in a fraud trial while ‘preparing for the vast challenges a political novice will face in assuming the presidency’ threatens the effectiveness of this transition,” Petrocelli wrote.

“The Constitution, deference to the president-elect, and basic pragmatism compel the modest relief sought in this motion.”

Curiel will likely issue a written order on Trump’s request to delay the trial sometime this week.