Media Bid for Trump’s Depositions Denied

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — After a media scramble to get a hold of Donald Trump’s deposition videos taken for the class action lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump University, a federal judge on Tuesday declined to release hours of tapes to the handful of national media outlets that requested public access to them.
     Multiple media outlets, led by The Washington Post, requested to intervene in the case Cohen v. Trump to get access to deposition videos taken of the GOP nominee on two separate occasions in late 2015 and early this year.
     The videos were originally lodged with hundreds of other documents by Cohen’s attorney Jason Forge as part of their response to Trump’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case. But because Forge did not follow court procedure for filing the electronic files and seek leave of court, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel blocked their release in June.
     The transcripts of Trump’s depositions have been made available in their entirety, however, which Trump’s attorney Daniel Petrocelli pointed to in arguing that the presidential nominee “has nothing to hide.”
     Curiel also granted Trump’s motion to amend the protective order, making it even stricter. Now, videotaped depositions are not allowed to be filed in the case unless under seal and any videotaped deposition related to the case is barred from media dissemination.
     The protective order applies to both class actions out of San Diego, Cohen v. Trump and Low v. Trump University.
     Curiel was tasked with deciding if particularized harm would result from the public release of the tapes, and balancing the public and private interests at stake if harm was found. He found Trump’s argument that releasing the deposition tapes would cause a “media frenzy” and could potentially “taint the jury pool” had some merit, pointing out courts have found audio and video tapes “were subject to a higher degree of potential abuse” than transcripts.
     “Given the context of the case and the timing of media interveners’ request, it is nigh-inevitable that ‘cut’ and ‘spliced’ segments of defendant’s deposition videos would appear in both media reports and in political advertisements aired nationwide prior to the trial date in November, increasing the likelihood that prospective jurors would be exposed to information about the case, as well as to evidence that could be introduced at trial to impeach defendant’s testimony,” Curiel wrote in the order.
     But Curiel did find several factors weighed in favor of disclosure, including legitimate public interest in the content of the videos, the media’s desire to provide the electorate with insight into Trump’s demeanor and Trump’s public celebrity as an “experienced public figure.”
     Since the videos have not been filed as evidence, however, “the presumption of public access is substantially weaker,” Curiel wrote.
     “There is every reason to believe that release of the deposition videos would contribute to an ongoing ‘media frenzy’ that would increase the difficulty of seating an impartial jury,” Curiel reiterated.
     Trump is being sued by former students of the shuttered real estate school who claim he defrauded them with a “get rich quick” scheme to cash in on the foreclosure crisis. Some students paid upwards of $35,000 for advice they claim was little more than an infomercial.
     Curiel heard from the media outlets and Trump’s lawyer at a hearing on the motion to intervene on July 13. The judge was also tasked with deciding whether to make the protective order in Cohen and Low even stricter, per a request by Trump.
     Petrocelli argued at the hearing that removing the protective order would threaten the “integrity and fairness of the trial” by making it more difficult to pick a fair and impartial jury.
     He also pointed out that in most cases deposition videos are not released prior to a trial, if at all.
     When Dan Laidman — the media outlets’ attorney — addressed the court, he said the potential harms or prejudices Trump claimed would happen if the videos were released were “abstract” and could “really apply to any case.”
     He said Trump cannot specifically show how he would be prejudiced if his videotaped deposition were released to the public, something Forge reiterated by saying that “arguing this matter elevates this motion to a level it doesn’t deserve.”
     Trump needed to prove “good cause” for keeping the deposition tapes out of the public’s hands. The threshold for keeping documents under wraps is difficult to meet, however, with precedence leaning toward transparency.
     In an expected move, Curiel also denied Trump’s motion for summary judgment in the Cohen case Tuesday, finding Art Cohen and the other plaintiffs have presented enough evidence for their claims Trump violated the Racketeering or Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to go forward.
     The former students claim Trump violated RICO when he claimed to have “handpicked” Trump University mentors and teachers, which was reflected in marketing materials and advertisements aimed at capturing potential students. They also claim the use of the word “university” lent the program an air of credibility which led students to believe Trump University was accredited.
     The trial in Low v. Trump University has been set for late November, after the presidential election.

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