President-Elect's Legal Team Wants Judge To Delay Trump University Case

Nov 18, 2016
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As Donald Trump prepares to take over the White House, he's also facing trial on civil fraud charges in a federal court in San Diego. The suit was filed by students who took real estate seminars at his Trump University. The trial is scheduled to begin just 10 days from now, although Trump wants a delay and there's a hearing on that today. NPR's Ina Jaffe has been following the case. She joins us now.

Hi, Ina.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I can understand why the president-elect wouldn't want to go to trial now. But when's it ever going to be a better time?

JAFFE: Yeah, that is the good question here. I mean, originally, the trial was supposed to start during the campaign, and Judge Gonzalo Curiel agreed to reschedule the trial so that it was after Election Day but before the inauguration, if Trump won. Now Trump's lawyers say the transition is demanding too much of his time, and they want the judge to hold the trial after the inauguration.

INSKEEP: Judge Curiel - that's a familiar name from the summer.

JAFFE: Right, right. During the campaign, Donald Trump complained that Judge Curiel was biased against him because Trump wants to build a border wall and the judge was, quote, "Mexican." Actually, he was born in Indiana.

INSKEEP: So let's talk about the substance of the case itself. What really happened, so far as we know, at Trump University?

JAFFE: Well, the case is about whether Trump University really did what Donald Trump said it would do. Here's how he described the, quote, "professors" in a promotional video.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

DONALD TRUMP: We are going to have the best of the best. And honestly, if you don't learn from them, if you don't learn from me, if you don't learn from the people that we're going to be putting forward - and these are all people that are hand-picked by me - then you're just not going to make it in terms of the world of success.

INSKEEP: That was the claim. What, according to the plaintiffs anyway, was the reality?

JAFFE: Well, they argued that the whole point of the school was to keep selling students increasingly expensive seminars. There's transcripts of free introductory sessions that show instructors telling students they could make as much as $50,000 within a couple of months if they used Donald Trump's techniques. But to learn those, they'd have to sign up for another seminar that cost about $1,500. And at that seminar, they were sold another program with one-on-one mentoring - the cost, $35,000.

INSKEEP: OK - a lot of money, but what would make that fraud?

JAFFE: Well, they say the promised Donald Trump investment techniques were mostly stuff that you could find on the internet. They say that the promised mentoring was worthless, that the instructors were unqualified and were not hand-picked by Donald Trump, as he claimed.

INSKEEP: What's Trump say?

JAFFE: Well, his lawyers say that the plaintiff's allegations are entirely false. And in his deposition, Donald Trump said the students gave the courses a 97-percent approval rating and not even Harvard gets that.

INSKEEP: What's at stake here for the president-elect? What could he lose?

JAFFE: Well, this is now a class-action suit. The plaintiffs' attorneys say there could be more than 7,500 people eligible for damages if they win. Also, some of the plaintiffs were in their 60s when they took these courses, so the suit also charges Trump University and Donald Trump with violating laws that protect older adults from financial abuse. And that can significantly increase the damages.

INSKEEP: Is Trump University specifically accused of going after seniors?

JAFFE: Yeah, they are. Some of the transcripts of the classes show that instructors said that Social Security would no longer exist by 2014. And they told students they'd better start making money, or they'll be working at McDonald's in their 80s. Allegedly, students were also encouraged to go into credit card debt or cash out 401(k)s to pay for these classes.

INSKEEP: OK. So what have you heard about the case from Judge Curiel, the man who was at the center of this firestorm earlier this year and is still presiding over the case?

JAFFE: Well, he wants both sides to settle. But, you know, even if that happens, Steve, there are two more lawsuits involving Trump University, and those are likely to follow him into the White House.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ina Jaffe. Thanks.

JAFFE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.