A San Diego federal judge on Friday morning finalized the $25-million settlement in the Trump University litigation, dismissing the objection of a Florida woman and finding in favor of the 3,700 others who stand to recoup the vast majority of what they spent on the real estate baron's investment program.
The ruling ends six years of litigation that got nasty from the start — including an early countersuit by Donald Trump that failed — and became political fodder in his race for the White House.
The written ruling from U.S. Judge Gonzalo Curiel still leaves open the possibility of an appeal, which could tie up the three class-action lawsuits — and the settlement funds — for years to come.
Curiel heard arguments Thursday from an attorney representing Sherri B. Simpson, the lone class member who officially objected to the settlement. The attorney, Gary Friedman, said the 2015 notice sent to potential class members clearly stated that participants would be able to opt out of the lawsuit at a later date in case of a settlement and preserve their rights to sue Trump individually.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs disagreed, saying the language in the notice when read in the correct context stated that participants could only opt out of receiving a portion of the settlement, not leave the case entirely.
Curiel declined to issue a ruling from the bench Thursday, but released his decision Friday.
His final approval allows more than 3,700 class members to recover an estimated 90% of what they spent on Trump University, attorneys said. The exact amount is still being calculated as claims are verified.
The judge said the amount of the settlement should not be a major factor in determining if it is fair, but he applauded the high number, calling it "exceptional."
The lawsuits claimed that Trump University misled students into spending thousands of dollars on real estate seminars and a yearlong mentorship program that didn't live up to promises. Students were falsely told that instructors and mentors were "handpicked" by Trump and were led to believe the program was an accredited university.
Until the very end, Trump had insisted he would not settle with the plaintiffs. But days after he captured the White House, and just as the first of the cases was set to go to trial in San Diego, the two sides reached agreement to end the litigation.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.