Trump University May Settle to Avoid a Messy Fraud Trial
Policy + Politics

Trump University May Settle to Avoid a Messy Fraud Trial

REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

There’s a chance that the American public will be spared the embarrassment of watching their president-elect go on trial for fraud less than three weeks after selecting him. The Associated Press and other news outlets are reporting that the parties in the class action lawsuit against Trump University lawsuit, currently in pre-trial hearings in San Diego, may be entering settlement talks.

The suit against the for-profit training program founded by now-president-elect Donald Trump alleges that students were promised rigorous training in business skills and real estate market analysis that would equip them to get rich. What they claim they actually received were sketchily designed courses that came in tandem with high-pressure sales pitches insisting that the only way they could really expect to succeed was by purchasing further Trump University training, even if that required them to go into debt.

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The case received extra attention during the campaign because of Trump’s decision to publicly attack the federal judge hearing it, Gonzalo Curiel. The president-elect declared that because the Indiana-born Curiel’s parents were Mexican, he was incapable of being impartial in the case. At the time, House Speaker Paul Ryan declared Trump’s words “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

On the Trump side, lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli said in court that he was “all ears” when it came to discussing a potential settlement. At the same hearing, he requested a delay of several months in the trial that is now scheduled to start Nov. 28. Trump’s having been elected president, he said, meant that the trial would be a distraction during important transition planning.

Petrocelli did not address the likelihood that once he is inaugurated, Trump isn’t likely to have a lot of spare time on his hands, either. Judge Curiel did not signal his intentions one way or another with regard to the request, however he has indicated in the past that he is not interested in further delaying a trial that had been working its way through the courts for years.

Curiel did tell both parties that he had arranged for another federal judge, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller, also in San Diego, to be available to mediate settlement talks.

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Both sides agreed to participate, although plaintiffs’ attorney Patrick Coughlin noted to reporters after the trial that in previous settlement discussions, the two sides have been “miles apart.”

Regardless of how the attorneys fare in their negotiations, though, the biggest impediment to a settlement may be Trump himself. He has bragged in public and in his books that he never settles court cases, although that is not actually the case.

“I don’t know if he has any willingness to settle this case,” Petrocelli said in court. “It is my judgment that it is an option that at least needs to be considered. I’m sure he will give it consideration, given all the other responsibilities and obligations that he has.”