Citing concern Friday that a “media frenzy” would ensue if a trial were held before the November presidential election, the judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit against Donald Trump over a real estate “university” accused of defrauding students scheduled a late November date for the years-old litigation.
Jury selection in the case, which is expected to last four weeks or longer, is set to begin Nov. 28. Trump's attorney said the billionaire businessman plans to attend as much of the trial as possible — and testify.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel in San Diego said his top priority was making sure jurors would be able to evaluate the case and render a verdict based strictly on evidence rather than on influences related to events surrounding the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Plaintiffs claim that they paid thousands of dollars for a program that was worthless, something Trump denies.
“I'm anxious to move this case forward,” Curiel said from the bench. “I'm thinking of my jury. Will they be able to stay clear of the media frenzy that will rise? Ultimately, that's my No. 1 concern.”
Lawyers representing Trump and his now-defunct Trump University had asked that the trial be scheduled next year, long after the Nov. 8 election, so he would not be distracted during the campaign and his presidential rivals could not use the lawsuit against him.
“If Mr. Trump is successful, we can pick a date for trial sometime after the beginning of the year,” defense attorney Daniel Petrocelli said. “I think early February would be a reasonable time.”
Attorneys for former Trump University students wanted the trial to begin as soon as July.
“These are real people who spent a significant amount of money,” lawyer Jason Forge said. “This has impacted their lives. That does not turn on the election or the election outcome.”
Trump was personally named in a 2010 lawsuit against Trump University, which consisted of programs in which students would be taught how to invest in real estate.
Numerous plaintiffs alleged in the case that their tuition of up to $35,000 was wasted because instructors were not hand-picked by Trump as promised and they lacked significant experience buying and selling property.
Curiel said he is considering starting jury selection before the Thanksgiving holiday so the trial can begin Nov. 28.
McDonald writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.