Judges rule Trump University can appeal to New York's highest court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York appeals court issued a ruling on Tuesday that apparently made it highly unlikely that a state fraud case against Trump University, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s venture, will be heard before the Nov. 8 general election.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump Tower, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The mid-level appeals court ruled that Trump’s lawyers can argue to the state’s highest court that the fraud claims against Trump University brought by the state attorney general should be dismissed.

Trump suffered a legal setback in the case in March when the appeals court allowed multimillion-dollar fraud claims against the now-defunct venture to proceed.

The claims are part of a state lawsuit filed in 2013 that accuses Trump University of misleading thousands of people who paid up to $35,000 for seminars to learn the billionaire businessman’s real estate investment strategies.

The trial judge in the case had been waiting to hear whether the mid-level appeals court, the Appellate Division, First Department, in Manhattan, would give Trump permission to go to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

“It’s no surprise that Donald Trump is using every legal option to avoid standing trial for operating a sham for-profit university,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement responding to the ruling.

“As our lawsuit makes clear, Mr. Trump’s phony university defrauded thousands of students through an illicit scheme that cost them millions of dollars,” Schneiderman continued. “I am confident that the Court of Appeals will agree with the lower court’s unanimous decision to reject virtually all of Mr. Trump’s claims.”

Alan Garten, general counsel for the Trump Organization, said, “We are pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to going to the Court of Appeals.”

Garten has said the claims are “without merit and baseless” and that almost all those who participated in the programs filled out written surveys giving the seminars high ratings.

Class actions are pending in California on similar claims by Trump University students. One of those cases is scheduled for trial on Nov. 28.

The fraud claims against Trump University were an issue early in the Republican primary campaign.

With Trump allowed to appeal the pretrial rulings to the state’s highest court, it is very unlikely the New York case will be resolved before November’s election.

It takes an average of 12 months from the time an appeal is allowed for the Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments in a case, according to court spokesman Gary Spencer. A decision on whether or not the fraud claims can proceed would normally take another month and, if not dismissed, the case would then go back to the trial court.

In the March decision, Schneiderman was allowed to proceed on fraud claims that require proof of intent to defraud and those that do not. The court also ruled that the statute of limitations for the claims stretches back to 2007 instead of 2010. The program stopped taking students in 2010.

Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Jonathan Oatis