Trump Fights for Dismissal of Fraud Claims

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – Donald Trump on Friday moved to end one of two major ongoing court cases against his now-defunct business seminar program, filing a memo to support summary judgment against the hundreds of people convinced to spend up to $35,000 for a few days of instruction on real estate and some binders.
     Trump’s attorneys argue there is insufficient evidence to prove the billionaire presidential candidate knew his now-defunct for-profit business seminar Trump University was defrauding customers, but chose to run it anyway.
     “Defendant’s superficial review of TU’s advertising for branding purposes is the only fact that connects defendant in any way to plaintiff’s allegations of fraud,” said Trump attorney David Petrocelli. “The fact is wholly insufficient to establish a RICO violation by defendant.”
     RICO stands for Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and it was initially started to go after the mafia. The pursuit of civil RICO claims, which triple damages and attorney’s fees, is what distinguishes Cohen v. Trump from another similar lawsuit also playing out in Southern California, Low v. Trump.
     Both cases hinge on what are essentially false advertising claims, with plaintiffs arguing that the use of the word “university” was deceptive, as it was little more than a three-day business seminar. The plaintiffs further claim the organization promised the instructors would be “hand-selected” by Trump, when it has since become clear through depositions Trump had little if any involvement in the selection of so-called instructors.
     Finally, plaintiffs claim the mentorship program, which cost about $35,000, did not deliver on its promises. In the Low v. Trump case, the plaintiffs must prove they based their purchase decision on three advertisements they say turned out to be deceptive.
     For the RICO case, they must prove Trump knew the operation was fraudulent and proceeded with it anyway, a much higher burden of proof.
     In Friday’s filings, Petrocelli said the Cohen plaintiffs fail to meet that burden.
     “This case was an overreach from inception,” Petrocelli says. “It stretches civil RICO beyond the breaking point and would effectively federalize consumer advertising fraud claims, and subject officers, directors, and employees of every Fortune 500 company to unwarranted personal liability.”
     Trump did not knowingly participate in anything fraudulent, his ostensible lack of personal involvement in TU means he could not have conducted a fraudulent operation, he did not make any false statements, and the false advertisement claims are puffery, the defense says.
     The defense argues that terms such as “hand-selected” are phrases found in advertising everywhere and don’t constitute deceptive practices.
     In another brief, Trump moved to decertify the class in the Cohen v. Trump claim, arguing that each of the plaintiffs had individual experiences, and the defendant was constitutionally entitled to assess damages on an individual basis.
     Petrocelli argues that many of the former TU students in the Cohen v. Trump case filed after the statute of limitations had passed. He further asserts that since some of the students claim, despite the use of the word “university,” they did not actually believe they were going to get a four-year degree, that each claim should be separated out.
     “Unable to address the many individualized factual issues that now predominate and require decertification—statute of limitations, reliance, causation, and damages—plaintiff’s opposition relies on misstatements of the law and record,” Petrocelli writes.
     During the same period, the plaintiffs also filed numerous briefs, requesting that some of the testimony of Trump’s expert witnesses be disregarded as the witnesses lack necessary credibility to be considered experts.
     The plaintiffs commissioned a report conducted by Dr. Michael Kamins, an economist hired to discern whether TU’s advertising contained deceptive statements.
     Petrocelli says his report is fundamentally flawed and should be discounted as such.
     “Kamins assumed the very conclusion he was hired to analyze—that TU’s advertising included materially misleading statements that caused consumers to purchase TU products,” he says.
     However, Jay Alvarez, attorney for the plaintiffs, countered by saying the expert witnesses employed by the defense lack all expertise in the area, and instead specialize in rebuttals, regardless of the subject matter.
     “McDuff is strictly a rebuttal expert, and Trump concedes that McDuff has no experience, let alone expertise, in the subject areas of Plaintiff’s expert’s testimony,” Alvarez writes. “This is where the court’s analysis, and McDuff’s participation in the case, should end.”
     Alvarez submitted two other briefs nearly identical in nature, accusing other defense witnesses, Alan Wallace and Joel Steckel, of being similarly unqualified to render an opinion on Kamins report or other expert testimony put forward by plaintiffs.
     Plaintiffs are asking to have the testimony of the three witnesses disqualified.

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