Trump U. Class Action Losing a Lead Plaintiff

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – A federal judge has allowed the lead plaintiff in a six-year-long class action against Trump University to withdraw from the case, with stipulations.
     U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled Monday that Tarla Makaeff is allowed to withdraw as one of two lead plaintiffs in the years-long class action filed against Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump and Trump University for allegedly defrauding students who paid to learn insider knowledge about real estate investing.
     But some major stipulations came attached to Curiel’s order, which Makaeff will have to agree to in order to remain an absent class member in the case and another San Diego class action against Trump.
     Curiel sided with Trump attorney Daniel Petrocelli – who argued at the motion hearing that his team’s main strategy centers on Makaeff’s claims and deposition – to allow the defense to depose again the other main plaintiff, Sonny Low.
     Trump’s attorneys must take Low’s deposition again within 21 days.
     In addition to Low’s deposition, Curiel denied Makaeff’s request to enter partial judgment and bar Trump from any further litigation he may file against her.
     Makaeff’s individual claims were also dismissed, according to Monday’s order.
     If Makaeff does not agree to Curiel’s stipulations, she must withdraw her motion by March 28.
     According to Curiel’s 25-page order, Makaeff moved to withdraw “because of the personal and professional toll that the case has taken on her.”
     “She expresses concern that involvement with a ‘high-profile trial’ will exacerbate her existing health problems, take her away from family obligations and cause her to ‘miss too much work as she attempts to transition into a new career,'” the ruling states.
     Curiel called Makaeff’s request to withdraw at the pre-trial stage “unusual,” but added it is not unreasonable given the media attention the case has garnered.
     “Defendants’ assertion that Makaeff anticipated in 2011 the degree to which this case would attract public attention due to the 2016 presidential campaign is risible. Neither pundits, counsel or the parties anticipated the media obsession that this case would create due to defendant Trump becoming a candidate for President of the United States,” Curiel wrote.
     Trump University argued dismissing Makaeff would undermine its discovery strategy, claiming if she were absent from testifying during the trial, it would “cripple defendant’s ability to defend the case.”
     But Curiel disagreed, finding that, “given the legal issues at trial,” Makaeff’s absence would not cripple Petrocelli’s ability to litigate the case.
     Curiel noted it will “be up to Sonny Low” to prove that three representations made to the public were not true. The judge also added that, even if Makaeff does not testify live, nothing will stop Petrocelli from using her deposition testimony at trial.
     The three claims at the center of the case against Trump include: whether Trump University was an accredited university, whether students would be taught by real estate experts, professors and mentors hand-selected by Trump, and whether students would receive one year of expert support and mentoring.
     Trump also argued Makaeff’s motion to withdraw came on the eve of trial and her “alleged health issues obviously did not deter her from engaging in a highly orchestrated public press tour.”
     The GOP candidate’s argument that Makaeff’s motion failed to provide justifiable basis lacks merit, Curiel ruled.
     The judge also found the case was not filed in bad faith, noting the plaintiffs in the case have remained the same since September 2012.
     Trump additionally argued that, were Makaeff not a class representative, key motions from throughout the litigation may have been decided differently. Curiel disagreed, finding that none of the court orders in the case relied solely on Makaeff’s allegations.
     The order did not rule on awarding attorney’s fees and costs associated with Makaeff’s involvement in the case, which Curiel noted will not be hashed out until the trial has concluded. He added that Trump will “likely be entitled to some award of fees and costs.”
     Petrocelli, as well as Makaeff’s attorneys Rachel Jensen and Jason Forge, did not immediately return emailed requests for comment.
     A pretrial conference in the case is set for May 6.

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