President-elect Donald Trump will be spending the days running up to his inauguration in an unprecedented fashion. Along with choosing his cabinet and scheduling the busiest first day in office ever, the reality television star will also be defending himself in several courts of law.
The real-estate developer turned politician is familiar with the courtroom. As reported by USA Today in June, Trump has been a party to some 4,000 lawsuits over the last 30 years—a uniquely large number of actions framed by detractors as a telling indicator of a life of crooked dealing, and by supporters as simply the cost of running an enormously successful business in America.
Whatever one’s position on the election, it’s clear that Trump’s ongoing court battles—somewhere around 75, according to the USA Today analysis—are the first of their kind for any president, and because even the highest office in the land is not above the law, will accompany Trump as he moves into the White House.
At issue in Trump’s most well-known and problematic legal battles—the subject of three separate lawsuits in fact—is Trump University, the eponymous real-estate seminar program that former students say was nothing more than a scam selling Trump-made promises of financial success that never materialized and stripped the poor, the naive, and the elderly of life’s savings instead.
The federal class action cases were filed in 2010 and 2013, before Trump made good on his decades of teasing a presidential run. They are both being heard in California, by Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was dragged into the campaign over the summer when Trump told an interviewer that the case was stacked against him because Curiel was “a Mexican,” and explained, “we’re building a wall between here and Mexico.” (Judge Curiel was born in Indiana.)
The fraud case filed in 2010, Low v. Trump University, goes to trial in less than three weeks. The second, Cohen v. Trump, alleges Trump’s “school” was really a criminal organization and violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Lawyers are currently fighting over evidence in that case and a trial date hasn’t been set.
The New York fraud case—which was also brought back in 2013 and alleges Trump’s unlicensed university scammed New Yorkers out of a collective $40 million—is still a go, according to Amy Spitalnick of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. A judge decided in March that the case would go to trial, but Trump has appealed the ruling.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman responded at the time in a statement that read in part, “This meritless appeal is yet another example of how Donald Trump will do everything in his power to avoid standing trial for allegedly defrauding hundreds of financially struggling New Yorkers at Trump University… We look forward to holding Donald Trump accountable for this brazen scam when he finally faces trial.”
The next relevant date is Dec. 5, when the people’s opening brief is due.
But allegations of fraud are really just the beginning for President Trump.
Most of the 75 open lawsuits are likely going nowhere. More than a dozen of the 20 ongoing federal cases where Trump is a defendant are actual nonsense, filed against the future president along with co-defendants Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and even Walt Disney, on behalf of seemingly mentally-ill plaintiffs. (Anyone can file a lawsuit.) The complaints in the wildest cases include allegations of kidnapping by the president-elect and his son—members of the supposed Illuminati.
Others may turn out to be much more legitimate. Members of Trump’s golf course in Jupiter, Florida, are currently suing the flaxen-haired businessman for $2.4 million for taking fees and dues while allegedly blocking admission to the actual club. A former employee of the same club brought a lawsuit last month, alleging she was unlawfully fired after reporting sexual harassment by a coworker.
A hearing is scheduled in Chicago on Nov. 29, in another case alleging Trump’s campaign violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending unsolicited text messages urging the plaintiff to “Help Make America Great Again!”
And there’s more. In New York State, two open cases are making their way through the courts. Republican consultant Cheryl Jacobus filed a $4 million libel lawsuit after she said Trump sought to destroy her career by publicly alleging she blasted him in the media for revenge only after he refused to hire her for his campaign. Jacobus asserts that she rejected the position and had remained neutral in the election until Trump made disparaging remarks against John McCain. In true Trump style, the president-elect responded by calling Jacobus “a dummy” on Twitter. And a status conference is scheduled for next week in the case of Efrain Galicia, who in 2015 sued the then-candidate when one of Trump’s security guards assaulted him during a protest outside of Trump Tower. (There’s a video of the incident.)
This is not an exhaustive list and there may be other suits winding their way through the legal system in the coming months. But Trump’s camp doesn’t seem alarmed.
Alan Garten told USA Today, “We’ll treat all cases the same way if he’s elected or not—and the results shouldn’t be different in the eyes of the law.”
Though presidential immunity may keep Trump safe from civil liability for any shady schools he starts from the White House or any libelous tweets he sends from Obama’s seized @potus account, litigation involving pre-presidential conduct can proceed as it would had Trump lost the election.
“The lawsuits don’t stop because someone happens to be president of the United States,” said Michael Gerhardt, a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill.
The decision that will keep the wheels of justice moving for dozens of plaintiffs suing Trump, ironically came from the Supreme Court’s 9-to-0 ruling in 1997 which allowed Paula Jones’s lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by Bill Clinton to move forward.
Though Trump could be deposed or have to testify in the cases against him, the time away from the Oval Office wouldn’t likely be too taxing as Trump depends heavily on his team of attorneys. What’s more dangerous, Gerhardt said, is the risk of discovery—that testimony or evidence gathered in the litigation of a case could be embarrassing to a sitting president, or worse, “could warrant an impeachment.”
An impeachment in a Republican-dominated House of Representatives is extremely unlikely, but two lawyers have already dangled the threat of discovery in front of the soon-to-be president. Famed feminist attorney Gloria Allred and her daughter, civil-rights lawyer Lisa Bloom, told Trump to back off his threats to sue the handful of women who came forward during the campaign to accuse the Republican candidate of harassment or sexual assault, including forced kissing and groping.
In a statement, Bloom said, “In that lawsuit I would take the deposition of Trump and all of his enablers, and subpoena his business and personal records as well as any recordings that may exist in which he brags about sexual assault, such as the Access Hollywood recording and potentially, the Apprentice raw footage.”
The possible humiliation and danger of discovery aside, Gerhardt said a defamation suit against the women or any others by whom the famously litigious Trump might feel aggrieved, would be ill-advised.
“[Trump] would have to deal with the law as it is, not as he would like it to be, Gerhardt said. “Truth is a defense,” that could potentially lead to an impeachment, and damages would be hard to prove.
“Given the fact that the man was just elected president, it might be hard to quantify his harm.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized a lawsuit brought against Donald Trump by Cheryl Jacobus as being soley about a defamatory tweet. In fact, the case centers on Trump’s claims that she was rejected for a job and criticized him in the media as a result.