THE ART OF THE DEFENSE
Trump U’s Lame Defense
As a last-ditch effort to keep Donald Trump from the witness stand in a pending Trump University trial, his lawyers have come up with an inventive defense that, of course, includes the Clintons.
On the first day of the Republican National Committee convention, a set of Donald Trump’s lawyers will be in a California courtroom.
That’s where a district judge on Tuesday struck down a Hail Mary defense from Trump’s legal team in an attempt to prevent their client from facing trial in a lawsuit against his now defunct Trump University.
The mogul faces a class action lawsuit in the state for his mid-2000s project which promised to make ordinary people experts in real estate, earn them tons of money, and provide expert seminars from Trump himself. None of which actually happened.
Meanwhile, in New York, Trump is also facing a lawsuit from the Attorney General which will proceed to trial this year as well.
As he and his lawyers spin their wheels to escape litigation—on both coasts—that could impact the presidential contest, things are not going so well.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel set a hearing for July 18 to determine if the civil case in California will proceed, which could put the spotlight back on the lawsuit while Trump fights for or is accepting his party’s nomination.
Trump also previously stated in February that because Curiel “happens to be Spanish,” he might be biased against him due to the candidate’s immigration platform.
And it’s unlikely that his lawyers’ latest motion to dismiss did their case any favors.
Trump’s lawyer, Daniel Petrocelli, a flashy Los Angeles attorney who once beat O.J. Simpson in a civil case and unsuccessfully represented Enron’s CEO, filed the defense motion to try to tie the 2016 presidential race to the civil suit. In it, he wrote that if the Clinton Global Initiative—a consortium the convenes leaders to discuss solutions to problems founded by President Bill Clinton— can market a yearly conference as a “university,” so can Trump’s creation.
“In all but a handful of states there are no limitations on the use of the word university in a business name,” Petrocelli writes in the document first obtained by the Hollywood Reporter. “As a result, educational companies and business organizations of all types frequently use the word ‘university’ to market their products or services despite having no affiliation with a degree-granting university.”
Petrocelli told The Daily Beast he was not in a position to talk about the case.
This semantics debate goes on for a few more pages.
In addition to CGI University, which is billed as a yearly meeting of “global young leaders,” Petrocelli included McDonald’s Hamburger University and an ad from Farmers Insurance featuring actor J.K. Simmons as a fictional professor, as evidence his client was being held to a different standard.
The problem with the comparison is that there are major differences in the way in which these institutions are marketed.
For instance, CGI University calls itself “a meeting where students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges,” on its website.
As for Hamburger University, the institution has a proven track record of training people to become restaurant managers and operators of various branches of the company. Its Shanghai campus had a reported selection rate of 1 percent in 2015, making it more selective than Harvard University. Additionally, Hamburger University provides American students with the opportunity to earn credits towards a bachelor’s degree at 1,600 colleges or universities across the country.
Not only did Trump University fall short in the education department, it did not even provide students with the opportunity to meet the straw-haired mogul as promised, but rather gave out cardboard cutouts of his likeness.
The University of Farmers has been recognized among the better corporate training organizations in the world by Training magazine for four consecutive years. It even got inducted into the 2014 hall of fame for the magazine alongside Microsoft, Deloitte, IBM, and General Mills.
“The University of Farmers strives to deliver the best trained people in our industry through world-class facilities offering outstanding state-of-the-art curricula for Farmers agents, claims personnel and management,” Farmers Chief Learning Officer Annette Thompson said at the time. “Farmers is proud of its instructors, curriculum development personnel, and support staff. They are the best in the industry.”
Neither Farmers nor CGI returned calls for comment about their inclusion in Petrocelli’s motion.
The broader problem with motions like these—summary judgments—is that they seek to get a court opinion for the defendant (in this case Trump) without the plaintiff being able to convince a jury. So the facts have to be crystal clear.
“As a general matter, summary judgment is difficult to obtain,” CUNY law professor Frank Beale explained to The Daily Beast. “It would be a bold move for the Court to accept Trump’s depiction of the facts without giving the plaintiff the chance to contest some of the statements contained in the summary judgment brief.”
Beale said he doubted the motion would be granted because summary judgments typically occur when “there is no serious dispute about the facts.”
On top of this shaky defense, Trump was specifically warned by the New York State Education Department about using the term “university” in conjunction with his company which functioned essentially as an upsell scheme modeled after tactics developed by notorious fraudsters.
“Almost immediately after Trump founded Trump University, the New York State Education Department (“NYSED”) wrote to Donald Trump on May 27, 2005, warning him that using the name “University” was illegal without a license, and asked Trump to stop using the name “Trump University,” attorney Art Cohen wrote in his initial 2013 suit. “Instead of complying, Defendant’s agents created a fictitious office in Dover, Delaware, and then Defendant continued to brazenly operate illegally out of his 40 Wall Street office in New York, New York for five years.”
At the time, Trump was also compelled to refund all the money students had paid to the institution or face disciplinary action as a consequence.
He did not comply.
“Defendant did not give students refunds, but did stop offering and selling Live Events shortly thereafter in or about August 2010. However, Defendant has made multiple statements that he intends to resume Trump University courses in the future,” Cohen writes.
When asked about Petrocelli’s argument, the law offices of Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck, LLP, co-counsel on the two pending class-action lawsuits against Trump University in California, simply said “no comment.”
Trump himself has said that he doesn’t want the litigation to proceed in the middle of an already insane Republican primary, while at the same time making clear he has no intention of settling the suit.
“I’m going to win that easily,” Trump said of the lawsuit during a press conference on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, across the country, Trump may also have to appear in New York court over a lingering suit from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman which alleges he scammed students with his Trump University.
New York Justice Cynthia Kern decided on Tuesday that the suit which alleges that Trump University ripped students off of a collective $40 million will go to trial. Schneiderman previously asked Kern to rule on the matter without going to trial because the evidence was so clear. Yet some movement on the years-long suit was better than nothing.
“I am very pleased the judge has indicated her intention to move as expeditiously as possible to trial, as thousands of Mr. Trump’s alleged victims have been waiting years for relief from his fraud,” Schneiderman said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. “We believe that Mr. Trump and Mr. Sexton will be essential witnesses at trial. As we will prove in court, Donald Trump and his sham for-profit college defrauded thousands of students out of millions of dollars.”
As Trump continues his likely march toward the Republican nomination, picking up delegates from five state wins on Tuesday, he has tried to make his fight over Trump University equivalent to a fight for the future of America.
“And you know what? The United States should fight back also,” Trump said, shrouded in darkness in a video made by his campaign in March. “We shouldn’t just be settlers, we should fight back. And do what’s right.”
In this instance, Trump University customers would seem to agree.