Donald Trump Unlikely to Duck Trump U. Lawsuits

     SAN DIGEO (CN) — The day after Donald Trump accepted the Republican party’s nomination for President, a federal judge said he’s likely to allow a major lawsuit against him to go to trial.
     U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel said he’s likely to deny Trump’s motion for summary judgment in Cohen v. Trump, one of two class actions against his now-defunct Trump University.
     “The court believes at this point there’s sufficient evidence to get this to trial,” Curiel told the courtroom packed with reporters and lawyers.
     Curiel’s tentative order means both class actions against Trump University out of San Diego are likely to go to trial.
     In Cohen v. Trump, lead plaintiff Art Cohen claims the billionaire GOP presidential candidate knew Trump University was defrauding customers but chose to run it anyway. The class claims Trump violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was initially created to crack down on the mafia and organized crime. The pursuit of civil RICO claims, which triples damages and attorney’s fees, distinguishes Cohen from the other San Diego class action, Low v. Trump University.
     Both cases hinge on similar fraud claims related to the use of the word “university,” which the students claim led them to believe Trump University was accredited. Some students paid as much as $35,000 for the real estate seminar classes. The former students also claim Trump University misrepresented that mentors were “hand-selected” by Trump himself, and that the mentors did not provide the hands-on experience students paid thousands for.
     Daniel Petrocelli, Trump’s attorney, said he recognized the high burden defendants must meet for a summary judgment motion to succeed. He nevertheless told Curiel, “Let me just take a shot at seeing if I can illuminate what’s going on.”
     Petrocelli called the motion a “reality check” and proceeded to blame the “marketing enterprise” of the shuttered real estate school for the alleged misconduct. He said Trump could not be personally responsible for fraud because he was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the school or its advertising campaign.
     Trump University originally started as an online seminar, which was later expanded to include the live events and mentorship program currently in dispute in the two class actions in San Diego.
     While Trump may have been involved in “hand-selecting” the mentors and instructors used in the online seminar, by 2007 his involvement with Trump University was “fairly minimal,” Petrocelli said.
     But Curiel pressed Petrocelli on the scope of Trump’s involvement, saying evidence lodged in court showed “at a minimum” Trump was involved in reviewing marketing materials and advertisements to ensure the “Trump brand” was not diluted.
     Petrocelli again shifted the blame away from Trump, saying a civil RICO claim can only apply to the “leader” of the forbidden conduct, be it a marketing director or manager.
     He called into question a video cited by the plaintiffs which they claim demonstrated Trump’s involvement in the alleged “marketing scheme” where he talked about “hand-selecting” mentors for the program. Petrocelli said the video was essentially copy-and-pasted from an interview Trump did when the online seminar program was started.
     “There’s no evidence in the record to show he knew they were using that video to promote Trump University. This idea he was somehow in the center of it is not supported by the facts in this case,” Petrocelli said.
     Further insisting Trump was not the person running Trump University, Petrocelli said the company was “branded off of his name just like any other celebrity endorsement.”
     When the plaintiffs’ attorney Jason Forge addressed the court, he told Curiel that the “overarching theme” of the motions filed by Trump “is somehow belligerence trumps substance.”
     “He set the tone for the fraudulent betrayal of this university as being the functional equivalent of learning from Donald Trump,” Forge said.
     Forge said multiple newspaper advertisements featured prominent pictures of Donald Trump alongside claims he “hand-picked” instructors who would teach Trump University students his real estate secrets.
     “It’s abundantly clear he was the top man and had the authority in the marketing scheme,” Forge said.
     Curiel also said he was inclined to deny clarifying a portion of the case description in the Low case as to the “university claim” asserted by the plaintiffs, saying it was not clear what exactly he’d be clarifying.
     One of the claims Forge asserts was previously agreed to in a stipulated description of the case for the class notice was that the use of “university” led students to believe the school was “legitimate.” But when Petrocelli took over as the fourth attorney to represent Trump, he disputed the “university” claim, saying it was limited to students who believed the school was “accredited.”
     “It was misleading to hold out this enterprise as a university,” Forge said. “That’s what came across pretty closely in the class notice. The university aspect of this case was really talking about legitimacy, not accreditation.”
     Forge suggested clarifying the certified claim would be as simple as referencing the “university aspect” as it was described in the class notice.
     Curiel also addressed Trump’s motion to decertify the Low class in which Trump argued that each individual student signed up for Trump University for various reasons that cannot be covered in a blanket class action.
     The judge said he wanted to focus on the reasons that students signed up for Trump University. Petrocelli said he would want to call former students as witnesses to ask why they took the courses, which plaintiff attorney Rachel Jensen objected to. But Curiel reminded the attorneys on both sides that he wanted to look at how the case will unfold “since so few of us, if any of us, have actually had a class action case go to trial.”
     Curiel took the matters under submission and a written order is expected soon.

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