A federal judge here has decided that he will not allow the release of videotaped depositions of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump in connection with a class-action lawsuit against the defunct Trump University real estate program.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel — a target of Trump's repeated scorn — also rejected a bid by Trump’s lawyers to get the lawsuit dismissed, a ruling that clears the way for a trial that could be costly for the candidate.
Several media organizations had sought release of Trump’s two videotaped depositions, taken in December and January. Transcripts of the testimony have been released, but Trump’s lawyers fought the effort to make the videos themselves public.
Curiel said there is legitimate public interest in having the videos released, but he sided with Trump’s lawyers, who had said releasing the videos would generate so much publicity it would bias potential jurors.
The judge wrote there was “every reason to believe the release of the deposition videos would contribute to an ‘on-going’ media frenzy that would increase the difficulty of seating an impartial jury.”
Full deposition transcripts provide the public with an ample amount of information about what Trump said under oath, Curiel ruled.
Among other things, the transcripts show that Trump was not able to identify instructors who taught the seminars. One of the central fraud claims in the suits — Trump is facing two separate class actions over the business — is that customers were duped by claims that Trump “hand-picked” instructors for the seminars.
Trump has argued the lawsuits are baseless, and that most customers who signed up — with prices ranging from about $2,000 to as much as $35,000 for extended programs — were satisfied. His lawyers contend the claims of “hand-picked” instructors and gleaning the “secrets” of Trump’s real estate empire were nothing more than common sales “puffery.”
In portions of Trump's testimony that have been released, he acknowledged that he plays on people's fantasies.
Curiel, in denying the motion to dismiss the case, said that was a question for a jury to decide, and that the plaintiffs had presented enough evidence to get the claim to trial.
The lawsuit filed in 2013 is a civil racketeering or RICO claim, alleging mail and wire fraud in promoting and selling Trump University, which wasn't accredited as a school. Trump’s lawyers argued the case would expand the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act too far, but Curiel also turned aside that claim.
Under the civil RICO law, a winning side can recover triple the monetary damages — a potentially huge bill for Trump, because the class action covers thousands of Trump University customers in all 50 states.
In May, Trump called Curiel “a very hostile judge” and a “hater of Donald Trump” in an 11-minute attack at a San Diego rally. Later, he said the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage and membership in a Latino lawyers association posed a conflict with Trump's positions on illegal immigration and his promise to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Those comments drew criticism from Republican leaders, and Trump promised to stop talking about the case.
Trial in one of the cases — which covers customers in California, Texas and Florida only — is set for late November.