Former Trump U. Student Wants $1.3M for Lawyers | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Thursday, November 30, 2023 | Back issues
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Former Trump U. Student Wants $1.3M for Lawyers

(CN) - A dissatisfied former student of Donald Trump's for-profit business school says she deserves more than $1.3 million in attorney's fees and court costs after four years of litigation and being forced to defend against a "million-dollar counterclaim."

Tarla Makaeff lodged a class action alleging deceptive business practices against the for-profit Trump University in 2010. She claimed that school - now called The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative - took her for nearly $60,000 and failed to follow up on promises it made during expensive seminars that Makaeff said were little more than "infomercials."

Trump University shot back with a counterclaim for defamation based on Makaeff's online postings and other comments, which Makaeff said were intended to "alert other consumers of my opinions and experience with Trump University" and to "inform other consumers of my opinion that Trump University did not deliver what it promised."

Makaeff moved to strike the counterclaim under California's anti-SLAPP law, but U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez in San Diego denied the motion. A three-judge federal appeals panel reversed Gonzalez in 2013, and the full court declined to revisit the decision months later.

After the district court granted the Makaeff's motion to strike the counterclaim this past June, Makaeff and her legal team requested attorney's fees and costs totalling just over $1.3 million. Makaeff's lawyers claimed to have spent 2,226 hours on the four-year case, a figure Trump's lawyers vehemently opposed in their answer.

"Makaeff has filed a two-inch thick stack of papers that spends considerable time demonizing Trump University, arguing that wealthy parties to litigation are not entitled to a defense, and extolling the expertise of various attorneys for Makaeff to justify premium hourly rates notwithstanding the rate surveys included in their pleadings do not support the high rate," Trump's attorneys told the court.

Trump's lawyers suggested awarding no more than $147,675 in fees and to "deny all costs."

Late last month, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel said that the 2,226 hours Makaeff had claimed to have spent on the anti-SLAPP litigation "seems to be very high." He also noted that that Makaeff's "vague statements" about the amount of time spent on the case needed more detail, and called for supplemental briefing on the issue.

Makaeff defended the previous request while providing a more detailed breakdown of how the case was litigated in briefs filed this week.

"Trump did not hesitate to pull the trigger on his million-dollar counterclaim against student-victim Tarla Makaeff, but now that it has backfired, Trump complains Makaeff's counsel responded with too much fire power," attorney Rachel Jensen, of the firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, wrote.

"Given the near certainty that a loss would have bankrupted Makaeff, and the importance to consumers nationwide (in this case and others) that class representatives are not bullied into dropping class actions, class counsel had to give it their all," Jensen added. [Parentheses in original.]

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