Donald Trump Fails in Bid to End Racketeering Lawsuit

But the Republican presidential candidate convinces the judge to shield video of his depositions from going public.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Whether or not Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, he's set to stand trial after the November election on racketeering claims. On Tuesday, a California federal judge rejected his summary judgment bid in a class action lawsuit brought over the operation of Trump University, the enterprise that offered to teach students Trump's secrets in making it big in the real estate industry.

The plaintiffs led by Art Cohen point to the marketing campaign used to hype Trump University, alleging that what they got for their money never lived up to statements about "hand-picked instructors" and "the next best thing to being his Apprentice.”

Trump argued that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act — a law that's most famously been used to prosecute mobsters — shouldn't be extended to consumer class action cases in the civil context.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel declined the invitation to draw this line, writing in his ruling, "It is not for this Court to effectuate Defendant’s policy preferences in contravention of the settled approach of the higher courts."

The judge also concluded that it is a triable issue whether Trump participated in the operation or management of Trump University and whether the marketing statements were false or misleading. Trump has been arguing that calling the enterprise a "university," for example, amounts to puffery, but Curiel ruled that a jury should decide such interpretations along with the question of whether Trump knowingly participated in a scheme to defraud when representations were made about "hand-picked instructors."

Trump has been firm that he won't settle this litigation, which means it will linger through his election bid. In the past, he's attacked the impartiality of the judge in controversial comments about the judge's Mexican heritage. Despite this, Curiel gave Trump a minor victory on Tuesday by denying media organizations who sought the unsealing of video of his depositions. Transcripts have already been made public. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post argued that the paper transcript does not reflect the full contents of these exhibits as observers deserve to see his intonations and facial expressions.

Curiel agreed with Trump that "it is nigh-inevitable that 'cut' and 'splic[ed]' segments of Defendant’s deposition videos would appear in both media reports and in political advertisements aired nationwide prior to the trial date in November, increasing the likelihood that prospective jurors would be exposed to information about the case, as well as to evidence that could be introduced at trial to impeach Defendant’s testimony."

The judge looked at prior cases involving video depositions of celebrities, including one featuring the late musician Prince in an intellectual property fight. He also weighed factors like a lower presumption of public access to discovery materials not yet entered into evidence, and while he acknowledged that some factors like Trump's running for the highest office in America favor disclosure, Curiel ultimately came to the conclusion that the limited benefits aren't worth the increased difficulty in seating an impartial jury.

The media may have struck out in efforts to obtain these tapes, but they are waging more legal battles for access to Trump documents in other cases. For example, Time Inc. presently has a motion in New York federal court aimed at unsealing a nearly two-decade old settlement in a lawsuit concerning the use of undocumented Polish workers to build Trump Tower.

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