SAN DIEGO (CN) — A host of media outlets took Donald Trump to task in Federal Court Wednesday, arguing he cannot prove he will be harmed or prejudiced if they win their push for the release of his deposition videos in the Trump University class action saga.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel heard arguments from The Washington Post, New York Times and handful of other national outlets as to why the videotaped depositions of Trump should be publicly released.
Trump’s deposition was taken for two San Diego class actions brought by former students of the now-defunct Trump University. The students in Low v. Trump University and Cohen v. Trump claim they were defrauded by marketing tactics used by the school as a “get rich quick” scheme to cash in on the foreclosure crisis.
The Washington Post led the other media outlets last month seeking the release of deposition videos taken of Trump in late 2015 and early 2016. Given the prominence Trump University has played in Trump’s stump for president — with the presumptive GOP nominee’s own public disclosure — the public interest in viewing the tapes “would provide the electorate with valuable insight into the demeanor” of the presidential nominee, the outlets argued in documents lodged in court.
While the transcripts of Trump’s depositions are available almost in their entirety, the videos will show the nuances of Trump’s response through his gesticulating, facial expressions and tone — cues that will add context to his answers when he was probed about his involvement in Trump University, the outlets argued.
But that argument is precisely why Trump has dug in his heels over releasing the videotapes, claiming he will not only be prejudiced during the trial — the first of which is set for late November, after the presidential election — but in his campaign for the White House.
Following a motion to intervene by the outlets, Trump requested the court make the current protective order, which applies to both San Diego class actions, even more strict: The candidate wants to prohibit the filing of any videotaped deposition unless it remains under seal, and bar the dissemination of any videotaped deposition.
In the weeks leading up to the hearing, multiple documents were filed in relation to Trump’s motion to amend the protective order and the media outlets’ motion to intervene to get the tapes released. Among the most outrageous arguments made in hundreds of pages filed is Trump comparing himself to everyone from late pop icon Prince, U.S. presidents and even his opponent Hillary Clinton in arguing for keeping the tapes sealed to avoid a “media frenzy.”
The deposition videos were originally filed along with hundreds of other documents by the plaintiffs’ attorney Jason Forge in their responses to Trump’s motion for summary judgment in Cohen v. Trump. But because Forge did not follow court procedure and seek leave of court to file the videotapes, Judge Curiel blocked their release last month.
Curiel was tasked Wednesday with deciding whether to allow the media outlets to intervene in the case for the purpose of acquiring Trump’s videotaped depositions, and if the protective order should be amended per Trump’s request.
Trump’s attorney Daniel Petrocelli took the podium first, telling Curiel that Trump does not object to portions of the transcript of his deposition being unsealed, but that removing the protective order from the videotaped depositions would threaten the “integrity and fairness of the trial.”
Curiel pressed Petrocelli to “walk him through” how disclosing the videos would impact the proceedings, and Petrocelli said the “unprecedented dissemination” through various media channels would be “beyond his comprehension” and would “make the job of picking a fair and impartial jury difficult.”
Subtly pointing out Trump’s public comments on the case, Curiel said, “I don’t think anyone would disagree the universe of this case is massive.”
Petrocelli touched on previous comments he’s made regarding his doubt that the “case will see the light of day inside the courtroom.”
He added, “It would be parading evidence in a very graphic way. This lawsuit is not a vehicle to litigate the presidential campaign. The court’s duty is not to facilitate a public election, it is to facilitate a fair trial.”
Petrocelli also brought up a line of questioning during Trump’s deposition where he was asked his opinion on other politicians and public figures such as Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, which the attorney called “utterly improper and irrelevant” and “prejudicial and inflammatory.”
When asked what he thought the videos would be used for, Petrocelli told Curiel he believed they would be used in political ads despite the fact that the cases involve “no misconduct against a sitting official” and consists of “purely private conduct of a company.”
In most cases, Petrocelli added, videotaped depositions are not released prior to a trial, if at all.
When Dan Laidman — the media outlets’ attorney — addressed the court, he pointed out that the harms cited by Trump are “abstract” and could “really apply to any case,” noting that Trump “cannot show how he will be specifically harmed by the release of the video depositions.”
As to the controversial line of questioning where Trump opined about Clinton and other politicians, Laidman said “that information is already public,” and added that releasing the videos will “enhance the accuracy” of the case.
Petrocelli disagreed, saying the “video is ripe to be misused.”
He added, “Nobody disputes the unprecedented public attention this case has and will continue to receive. It makes releasing the video all the more dangerous. There’s all kinds of potential for mischief.”
Trump’s attorney also pointed out that no deposition videos were released in other high-profile cases involving public figures such as Hillary Clinton, Steve Jobs, Anna Nicole Smith and Prince.
Low and Cohen’s attorney Jason Forge told Curiel that “arguing this matter elevates this motion to a level it doesn’t deserve,” and claimed Trump has failed to show particularized harm or the specific ways he will be prejudiced if the videos are released. He said Trump cannot even point to any specific portion of the video deposition that could be especially damaging if released.
“The elephant in the room is we are living in a visual world, and no one knows this better than Mr. Petrocelli’s client. No one has exploited that more than Mr. Petrocelli’s client,” Forge said.
Curiel gave Petrocelli “the last word,” which the attorney used to argue that there is a “false burden” related to the motions to intervene by the media.
“I can’t prove to you there will be a bad jury in this case. But the risk for ensuring a fair trial will be heightened,” Petrocelli said.
None of the attorneys in the case spoke to the media following the hearing.
Curiel took the matter under submission and a ruling is expected soon.
Sketch credit: Krentz Johnson
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