SAN DIEGO (CN) – President-elect Donald Trump asked a federal judge on Wednesday to disclose how a jury pool of 100 people were selected for the first Trump University trial, hinting he might accuse the judge of violating the Jury Selection and Service Act – cause for delaying the trial.
At a hearing Nov. 10, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel told Trump’s attorney Daniel Petrocelli and the class’ attorney Jason Forge the court had retained about 100 potential jurors who said they can commit to a four-week trial.
Petrocelli wants information on how those jurors were summoned and selected. He pointed to the Jury Selection and Service Act, which states parties are entitled to “a fair cross-section of the community” during the jury selection process. Under the act, a party can move to suspend trial proceedings if they believe the court “has substantially failed to comply with this mandate” – something Petrocelli hinted he may consider to further delay the Nov. 28 trial.
Per the act, attorneys are allowed access to records or papers used by the jury commission or clerk in connection with the selection process.
Petrocelli wants Curiel to provide the following: process for summoning prospective jurors; lists and identifying information of prospective jurors prescreened for hardship, excluded for hardship, and prequalified for jury service; any questionnaire used or questions asked of prospective jurors; who conducted the screening and criteria used; information on randomization used before and after screening; any documents used in the screening process; any transcript from the prequalification process; and any information provided to jurors regarding the name or nature of the case.
Trump’s legal team appears to be exploring all options for getting the trial postponed, even though Curiel accommodated Trump’s campaign schedule throughout the year and a postelection trial date was set months ago.
Petrocelli alerted Curiel at last week’s hearing he would file a formal request to postpone the trial until after Trump’s inauguration, set for Jan. 20. The judge did not seem inclined to grant the delay, reminding Petrocelli they “were trying to avoid” having a sitting president testify in a fraud trial by getting the trial out of the way before Trump is sworn in.
The judge did say he would not require Trump to come to San Diego to testify in person, allowing him to do so via live video feed or through deposition video recorded earlier this year.
Curiel told both parties he believed it “would be wise” for them to try settling the case by meeting with U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller. It is not clear if or when those settlement talks will take place.
Low v. Trump University is the first of two class actions in San Diego federal court against the President-elect’s now-defunct real estate school. Sonny Low and the other plaintiffs claim they were duped into paying upwards of $35,000 to learn insider real estate secrets by instructors purported to be handpicked by Trump. They say they didn’t get what they paid for – including a year of mentoring – and Trump University was little more than an infomercial.
Also this week, Curiel issued his final order on both parties’ motions to exclude evidence from trial. Notably, Curiel declined to issue a blanket order barring Trump from calling as witnesses any class members who opted out of the class action, who would likely testify about their positive experiences with Trump University.
But on the flip side, Curiel also declined to rule that testimony from absent class members would be admissible without limit. The judge said Trump can only call absent class members to rebut the plaintiffs’ claim the misrepresentations about Trump University were uniform and made across the board.
As to the plaintiffs’ request, Curiel granted their request to block evidence or argument related to witnesses’ political affiliation, voting preferences and political contributions, finding it “may be unduly inflammatory.”
Curiel flip-flopped on a tentative ruling on the plaintiffs’ request to exclude student evaluations as evidence. Curiel originally found the evaluations could not be used to prove the two issues the trial will decide – whether Trump University misrepresented in its marketing materials Trump handpicked instructors and if the term “university” led students to believe the school was accredited and comparable to reputable business schools. But after a fiery exchange between Petrocelli at the Nov. 10 hearing, Curiel reviewed the request and agreed to admit all evidence regarding surveys and approval ratings.
Statements made by and about Trump during his campaign, including tweets, interviews and debates, will be allowed in as evidence since Trump’s request to “exclude certain statements” was vague. Trump’s attorneys can ask to exclude specific statements and election fodder once the trial is underway.
Evidence regarding a letter to Trump University by the Better Business Bureau – which told the real estate school it was improper to use the word “university” in its title – as well as Trump University ratings by the organization will be allowed in. Curiel will also allow evidence from the New York State Education Department finding that Trump University violated New York education law in using the title “university,” ruling it can be used for the limited purpose of demonstrating Trump University’s knowledge and notice of the misrepresentations.
The plaintiffs were ordered to submit their response to Trump’s jury request by Thursday morning. A hearing on Trump’s motion to delay the trial is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
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