Woman wants out of lawsuit against Trump University, but Trump's lawyers say no

Lawyers for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday contested an Orange County woman's request to withdraw from a lawsuit she filed against Trump University, claiming the entire case was built around her and it would be unfair to the defense for her to bail out now.

"We've passed the point of no return," attorney Daniel Petrocelli told U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego.

Tarla Makaeff — one of four class representatives bringing the case against Trump's real estate instruction program — has asked to be removed from the lawsuit, citing stress and health problems caused by the closely watched case.

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"I don't think anybody anticipated a year ago where we find ourselves," said Makaeff's lawyer, Rachel Jensen, referring to Trump's status as the GOP front-runner.

Makaeff was the subject of a $1-million counterclaim filed by Trump that was later dismissed, and she has been derided on the campaign trail and the Republican debate stage, Jensen said.

"She didn't sign up for that. Ms. Makaeff has simply been put through too much," she said.

Although she wouldn't be a named class representative, Makaeff is asking to remain among the plaintiffs, so she could collect damages.

Makaeff didn't attend the hearing, but her attorneys provided the judge with medical documents. Curiel said he expected to make a decision in the next week or so.

Makaeff's lawyers argued that her presence in the case did not matter when it came to proving the claim that Trump University had misrepresented itself to students.

In the 2010 lawsuit, students claimed they had paid as much as $35,000 for the courses, which promised to teach them Trump's insider-business secrets. The advertising claimed the instructors and mentors were handpicked by Trump. However, the students said they got little in return and described the courses as more like an infomercial designed to squeeze more money out of them.

Deposition testimony by Trump that recently was made public cast doubt as to whether he actually had chosen the instructors.

Trump's lawyers have blamed the students for their own lack of success.

Petrocelli told the judge Friday that it was unheard of for a plaintiff like Makaeff to stick with a case for six years and, when all she had to do was show up for one to two days of testimony, ask to withdraw.

He argued that her testimony, evidence and individual claims were the "pillar" of the defense's strategy and what he hoped to use at trial to dismantle the case.

"We have to basically start all over again, your honor, if she's dismissed," he said.

Makaeff's lawyer said the defense team's legal strategy to put all its eggs into one basket was its own fault, and that there had been ample opportunity to collect evidence and depositions from the other class representatives in the case.

The judge considered many what-ifs during the hearing, including whether Makaeff still could be called to testify at trial as an unnamed plaintiff and whether it would help to give the defense more time to take depositions of the others named in the suit.

The issue of a looming trial date, which has not yet been set, also was broached and seemed largely to depend on Trump's performance in the presidential race. There already has been an agreement to delay the trial until after the July Republican convention.

"I'm going to have a lot to say on this topic if he is the nominee," Petrocelli said.

Court documents indicate Trump is expected to testify live. "This would be a zoo if it goes to trial," Petrocelli said.

Of three lawsuits against Trump University, Makaeff's case is the closest to trial. Another class action lawsuit is moving forward in San Diego federal court with one plaintiff, Art Cohen, and a third suit is being tried in New York state court.


Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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A version of this article appeared in print on March 12, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Woman wants out of suit against Trump U - Defense lawyers object, say their case is built around her." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe