Trump lawyers to begin settlement talks on Trump University

AP file photo
AP file photo

SAN DIEGO — Donald Trump’s attorneys on Thursday agreed to enter settlement talks in a class-action fraud lawsuit involving the president-elect and his now-defunct Trump University, raising the possibility of a quick end to the 6 ½-year-old case just before it goes to trial.

Daniel Petrocelli, Trump’s lead attorney on the case, also asked to delay the trial to early next year, saying Trump needed time to work on the transition to the presidency.

“The good news is that he was elected president. The bad news is that he has even more work to do now,” Petrocelli told U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel.

The lawsuit alleging Trump University failed on its promise to teach success in real estate begins in San Diego on Nov. 28 before Curiel, an Indiana-born jurist who Trump accused of bias during the presidential campaign for his Mexican heritage.

Both sides accepted Curiel’s offer to work with U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller, who is based in San Diego, on a possible settlement.

“I can tell you right now I’m all ears,” Petrocelli told Curiel.

Patrick Coughlin, an attorney for the former students who sued, told reporters that previous attempts failed. “We’ve been miles apart,” he said outside the courthouse.

Curiel didn’t signal how he would rule on the request for a trial delay, but he encouraged efforts to settle. He has been reluctant to postpone it any longer.

The judge said more than 100 potential jurors would be in court Nov. 28, and nine would be picked to begin hearing arguments no more than two days later. He expects both sides to finish presenting their cases around Dec. 14.

Petrocelli said it was unlikely that Trump would attend the trial, and Curiel said he didn’t expect he would.

The attorneys argued for nearly three hours over tentative rulings that Curiel issued earlier in the day on what evidence to allow jurors to hear.

Curiel said he was prepared to deny a request by Trump’s attorneys to prohibit statements made by and about their client during his campaign. The highly unusual petition would apply to Trump’s tweets, a video of Trump making sexually predatory comments about women, his tax history, revelations about his private charitable foundation and public criticism of the judge.

Curiel noted Trump’s attorneys didn’t specify what campaign-related evidence they wanted to exclude and that he would consider specific objections at trial. Trump’s attorneys didn’t challenge the judge further on that point, but they objected to many other decisions, including his refusal to allow many customer surveys and Trump’s claims of a 98 percent customer approval rating.

The lawsuit filed in 2010 on behalf of former customers says Trump University gave seminars and classes across the country under the guise of being an accredited school, which it wasn’t, and pressured people to spend up to $35,000 on mentorships from Trump’s “hand-picked” instructors.

The claims largely mirror another class-action complaint in San Diego and a lawsuit in New York.

Petrocelli told reporters in May that Trump planned to attend most, if not all, of the trial and would testify.

At the May hearing, Petrocelli asked for a trial after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, but the judge raised concerns about distractions if Trump won the election.

The attorney said then that the period between the election and swearing-in is extremely hectic for a president-elect but that it was preferable to holding a trial during the campaign.

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