SAN DIEGO (CN) – Former Trump University students stand to receive more money than the settlement that ended the years-long litigation originally guaranteed, a court document filed late Thursday revealed.
According to an omnibus reply in support of final approval of the settlement filed by class attorney Rachel Jensen, only 3,730 students submitted claims with the settlement administrator to recover what they invested in a Trump University education.
The settlement announced last November – days after now-President Donald Trump was elected and a little over a week before the first trial against the real estate school was to begin – guaranteed a class of 7,000 students would recover at least 50 percent of what they’d invested to learn insider real estate secrets from instructors purportedly handpicked by Trump.
It was preliminarily approved by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel last December.
Former students sued Trump in 2010 and again in 2013, saying the business mogul defrauded them when they invested thousands to learn how to invest in the real estate market. Some students invested up to $35,000 for an education they said provided little more insight than an infomercial.
But since not all 7,000 eligible class members filed claim forms to recover what they lost, those who did jump on the opportunity will see a bigger paycheck as early as this summer.
“The numbers are in, and they end any debate about the fairness of this settlement: Eligible class members are expected to receive over 80 cents on the dollar of what they spent on Trump University live events,” Jensen wrote.
A class member who purchased a 3-day seminar and Gold Elite program would recover a check for about $30,000, according to Jensen, who added, “No rational actor could expect to do better at trial.”
Jensen said the large number of claim forms filed and general lack of objections filed by government entities or class members reflect the settlement’s fairness.
Only two class members – 0.05 percent of the entire class – filed objections, according to Jensen.
Florida attorney Sherri Simpson objected to the settlement terms earlier this month, saying class members were not given an additional opportunity to opt out so they could file their own lawsuits, as was promised to them when the original class notices went out in 2015.
Jensen said Simpson was “solicited, based on her appearance on a PAC ad about TU,” to file an objection by attorney Gary Friedman, who was apparently involved in the election recount campaign led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Another man who appeared in the same political ad as Simpson, Robert Guillo, testified that a male attorney from New York called him on Feb. 23 to convince him to file an objection to the settlement. He declined that offer, Jensen said.
Phone solicitations by attorneys violate New York ethics rules, Jensen said, calling the objection “attorney-driven.”
Simpson mischaracterized the class notice, Jensen said, which included an “urgent message” on the “very first page” outlining how class members could retain their right to sue.
“The 2015 notices were crystal clear that a class member had to opt out by the deadline or forfeit bringing a separate suit. If Simpson had any questions or concerns, she could have brought it up with counsel for the class on any one of their many calls. She did not,” Jensen wrote.
A declaration filed by another class attorney, Amber Eck, stated she spoke to Simpson over the phone “at least two dozen times” in 2015 and 2016 and Simpson never asked questions about the opt-out process. Eck said they even discussed Simpson potentially serving as a plaintiff or trial witness in the Low case.
The Ninth Circuit has also rejected any rights to a second opt-out, Jensen noted.
Jensen asked Curiel to allow the attorneys in the case to question Simpson and Friedman under oath about the circumstances surrounding Simpson’s objection.
Another objection was filed by Harold Doe who wanted triple his money back, which Jensen called “no basis to object.” Curiel had noted previously Doe’s objection did not fully comply with the requirements set forth in a court order.
Jensen asked Curiel to overrule the objections, grant final approval of the settlement and award each of the class representatives an additional $15,000.
Trump attorney Daniel Petrocelli also filed a brief Thursday joining Jensen’s reply asking for approval of the final class settlement.
A hearing to finalize the settlement is set for March 30.