SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The U.S. judge overseeing a lawsuit against President-elect Donald Trump and his Trump University told both sides they would be wise to settle the case “given all else that’s involved.”
Lawyers for the president-elect are squaring off against students who claim they were they were lured by false promises to pay up to $35,000 to learn Trump’s real estate investing “secrets” from his “hand-picked” instructors.
Earlier on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel tentatively rejected a bid by Trump to keep a wide range of statements from the presidential campaign out of the fraud trial.
Trump owned 92 percent of Trump University and had control over all major decisions, the students’ court papers say. The president-elect denies the allegations and has argued that he relied on others to manage the business.
Trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 28, and Curiel told lawyers he was not inclined to delay the six-year-old case further. Trump lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said he would ask to put the trial on hold until early next year, in light of the many tasks the magnate has before his inauguration.
Curiel said he would allow both sides to file briefs on whether to delay the case. He also indicated they should consider making a deal.
“It would be wise for the plaintiffs, for the defendants, to look closely at trying to resolve this case given all else that’s involved,” Curiel said.
Petrocelli told reporters after the hearing that Trump might have to be a “little more flexible” about settling the case now that he is president-elect, although the lawyer wasn’t sure his client would was willing.
Curiel said that he would allow Trump to testify via video given his presidential obligations.
In the tentative ruling Curiel, based in San Diego, said Trump’s lawyers can renew objections to specific campaign statements and evidence during trial. Trump’s attorneys had argued that jurors should not hear about statements Trump made during the campaign, including about Curiel himself.
Trump attacked the judge as biased against him. He claimed Curiel, who was born in Indiana but is of Mexican descent, could not be impartial because of Trump’s pledge to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
Trump’s lawyers argued that Curiel should bar from the trial accusations about Trump’s personal conduct including alleged sexual misconduct, his taxes and corporate bankruptcies, along with speeches and tweets. They argued the information is irrelevant to the jury and prejudicial to the case.
In court papers, lawyers for the students claimed that Trump’s statements would help jurors as they weigh the Republican’s credibility.
“Defendants have not identified specific evidence that they wish to exclude,” Curiel wrote on Thursday. “Accordingly, the court declines to issue a blanket ruling at this time.”
The judge also barred Trump lawyers from telling jurors that the university had a 98 percent approval rate on student evaluations. That rating is irrelevant as to whether Trump University misrepresented itself, Curiel wrote.
Curiel is presiding over two cases against Trump and the university. A separate lawsuit by New York’s attorney general is pending.
Reporting by Dan Levine in San Diego and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Peter Henderson and Cynthia Osterman