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Just as Donald Trump was telling everyone of a hostile, Hispanic judge who should have recused himself in a class action lawsuit over Trump University, his attorneys were asking that same judge to not allow Tarla Makaeff, the named plaintiff, to withdraw from the fight.
The fraud lawsuit focuses on those who paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend seminars and receive “one-on-one mentorship” and “practical and fail-safe real estate techniques.” The plaintiffs allege they didn’t get all that was promised — and are on the verge of a trial that could feature Trump himself taking the witness stand. The prospect of a presidential candidate defending himself at a fraud trial has now come up in televised debates, political ads and the stump speeches of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination.
On Feb. 8, Makaeff asked the judge’s permission to leave the case. Her attorneys said she has “endured health problems, family loss and financial troubles in the years since this case began,” and that although she realized Trump was a celebrity, “no one could have anticipated that he would become a viable presidential candidate and a 24/7 media obsession as this case neared trial.”
The legal papers also state she was grilled for more than 15 hours in a deposition and point to Trump’s retaliatory “threats” and how “Makaeff cannot match, or even scratch, Trump’s pulpit.”
On Friday, Trump’s own attorneys filed an opposition to the motion.
“Make no mistake: this would eviscerate much of what has transpired in this case and would cause irremediable prejudice to defendants,” states Trump’s legal brief. “Makaeff is the critical witness in this case.”
According to Trump’s side, it’s not fair for Makaeff to be featured in the complaint as well as the judge’s decision to certify a class action and deny a summary judgment, and then let her out. “Makaeff’s central role in this litigation even extended beyond the courtroom and also included prosecuting Plaintiffs’ claims in the press,” Trump adds. “After filing this lawsuit, Makaeff embarked on a press tour to publicize her unproven allegations, conducting interviews with NBC, Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times.”
Trump’s attorneys are clearly looking forward to cross-examining her at trial, and Trump’s court papers are nearly as pugnacious as what the candidate says on the campaign trail.
“Despite her education, Makaeff failed to achieve success in real estate,” states the memorandum. “Discovery has confirmed this was due not to any failure by [Trump University], but to her own lack of effort. She simply did not put in the time, work and perseverance necessary to achieve success. In fact, in the one real estate investment she made, where she used her mother’s money to invest in a deal in Las Vegas, Makaeff backed out of it and demanded her money back. As Makaeff later learned, if she had put in the effort and stuck with the investment, it would have yielded a $35,000 profit.”
Trump’s attorneys say if Makaeff is not willing to attend trial, the case should be dismissed.
The decision on whether she can sue-and-run is now in the hands of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was the focus of Trump’s ire this past weekend.
On Saturday, during a rally in Arkansas, Trump told the crowd, “Because it was me, and because there is a hostility towards me from the judge — tremendous hostility beyond belief — I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine. He’s Hispanic, which is fine. And we haven’t asked for a recusal, which we may do. But we have a judge who is very hostile.”
The following day on NBC’s Meet the Press, moderator Chuck Todd asked, “Why would you need to ask for a recusal and what does his ethnicity have to do with it?”
Trump answered, “Well, because of the wall, and because of everything that’s going with Mexico and all of that, I think it’s frankly — look, this is a judge who has treated me very, very unfairly. This is a case that should have been thrown out a long time ago in the opinion of many great lawyers.”
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