November 15, 2016

Trump Testimony in the Trump University Case: Live or Tape?


Federal trial judge Gonzalo Curiel has set November 28 as the trial date for a lawsuit in which former students allege they were defrauded by Trump University. But over the weekend, lawyers for Trump filed papers asking Curiel to delay the trial, to be held in San Diego, until after January 20, when Donald Trump, the former president of Trump University, is set be inaugurated as President of the United States.

Trump’s lawyers, alleging that Trump is busy with the transition, also requested that Trump be permitted to testify through a videotaped deposition conducted at a secret location, rather than having to appear live in the courtroom.

As an advocate for students, that latter request suits me fine.

Former Trump University students are suing Trump in two separate class action lawsuits, alleging that Trump University, an unaccredited real estate training program operating in California, Florida, and New York, promised students they would be taught by instructors “hand-picked” by Trump, when in fact Trump did not select the teachers. The suit also contends that Trump should not have called his program a “university” because the New York State Education Department had warned Trump it was illegal to do so. Trump denies doing anything wrong.

In a separate case in New York, that state’s attorney general is suing Trump University, alleging brazen fraud, as recounted by the New York Court of Appeals:

The Attorney General averred that although Trump University speakers represented that the three-day seminar would teach students all they needed to know to be successful real estate investors, the instructors at those three-day seminars then engaged in a “bait and switch,” telling students that they needed to attend yet another seminar for an additional $5,000 in order to learn more about particular lenders. Instructors at the three-day seminars are also alleged to have engaged in a bait-and-switch by urging students to sign up for “Trump mentorship packages, which ranged anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000” and supposedly provided “the only way to succeed in real estate investment.”

The New York attorney general alleges that even if Trump had nothing to do with picking the hand-picked instructors, he was deeply involved in developing the advertising and recruiting materials designed to separate students from their money.

Lawyers for the students, who filed their case in 2010, told Judge Curiel in papers filed on Monday that Trump is stalling, and that it’s time to move ahead with the case, even if it means they won’t have any new testimony from Trump; they say they can instead rely on ten hours of videotaped pre-trial depositions they already have taken of Trump.

But if Trump’s lawyers insist that their client should be allowed to testify again, I really do hope they get their wish and have it be on videotape, rather than in the courtroom.

If Trump was not demanding to be able to testify by videotape, and instead showed up at the courthouse in San Diego, the only people who would see his testimony would be the people in the room. The federal courts do not permit video recording of trials.

But if Trump tapes his testimony, there will be a strong public interest argument in favor of the judge releasing the tape.

I want to see that testimony, because I think it will help educate the public not only about their new president, but also how predatory colleges operate — reeling in students with deceptive and coercive recruiting playbooks.

To add to the drama of Trump having to defend himself against lawyers charging him with fraud, there is of course the added dimension that Trump has attacked Judge Curiel, charging the judge is “a hater of Donald Trump” and had “a conflict” because “he’s a Mexican.” (Curiel was born in Indiana.) The judge would need to attend the session in order to rule on objections.

So whether or not the Trump University trial gets delayed, I hope Judge Curiel will grant Donald Trump’s motion to testify on videotape, rather than in person.

I wrote an op-ed about this very issue in the New York Times 20 years ago, addressing the trial testimony of two presidents: Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.  You can read it below.



This article also appears on Huffington Post