Donald Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to settle fraud lawsuits over his now-defunct Trump University real estate seminar program, despite vowing during the just-concluded presidential campaign that he would never settle the litigation.
The proposed settlement — hammered out in negotiations among Trump lawyers, attorneys pressing federal class-action suits and Schneiderman — was announced just minutes before a federal judge in San Diego convened a hearing on whether to proceed with a jury trial in one of the cases just 10 days from now.
“Today’s $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “I am pleased that under the terms of this settlement, every victim will receive restitution and that Donald Trump will pay up to $1 million in penalties to the State of New York for violating state education laws. The victims of Trump University have waited years for today’s result and I am pleased that their patience — and persistence — will be rewarded by this $25 million settlement.”
Most of the money would go to former Trump University students who paid about $1,500 for a three-day seminar or as much as $35,000 for an in-person mentorship. In addition to the money going to New York state, some of the fund will also pay costs incurred by the lawyers who filed the suits, but the plaintiffs’ lawyers agreed to forgo attorneys fees.
The proposed settlement will lower the profile of the Trump University controversy by scuttling the jury trial set to open later this month. However, the deal itself would lead to further court hearings and litigation likely to drag on for months or even years.
During the court hearing in San Diego Friday, a lawyer for Trump emphasized that the deal included no admission of liability on Trump’s part. According to the Associated Press, Trump’s lawyers said in a statement that they had “no doubt” he would prevail if the cases went to trial, but added “resolution of these matters allows President-elect Trump to devote his full attention to the important issues facing our great nation.”
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly ruled out a settlement in the Trump University cases.
“Trump University has a 98% approval rating. I could have settled but won’t out of principle,” the GOP presidential candidate said on Twitter in February.
“I won’t settle because it’s an easy case to win in court,” Trump told MSNBC a few days later.
Lawyers for Trump and for the disgruntled students pursuing the federal suits did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Despite Trump’s vow to take the case to trial, settlement talks intensified in the past week as Trump’s team began to focus on the daunting load of transition-related duties the president-elect faces. U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who’s presiding over the federal suits in San Diego, also prodded the two sides in those cases to meet with another judge to try to work out a settlement.
Another factor accelerating the talks: one of the federal suits is set to go to a trial on the Monday after Thanksgiving, beginning with jury selection. Trump’s side has asked that the trial be delayed, but Curiel has seemed intent to keep the trial in the 6-year-old case on track.
A hearing the judge scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Pacific time on Friday on the delay request appeared to have spurred the sides to try to wrap up the deal.
The agreement announced Friday is only a proposal for settling the case. Under federal law, notices of the settlement would be sent to former Trump University students, who could object to the deal or opt out of it.
While the proposed settlement will likely do away with the pending trial, more court hearings would follow, including an initial court session to discuss the settlement and give it a preliminary OK. Curiel would likely entertain objections to the deal at yet another public hearing and ultimately have to rule on whether the settlement was fair. Then, any class members who objected could pursue appeals, delaying implementation of the settlement.
The lawsuits claim that the marketing of Trump University misled students by claiming that the instructors were handpicked by Trump and that the school promised to teach his investing “secrets.” In fact, Trump has acknowledged he did not know most of the instructors. In addition, many of the techniques seem to have been publicly available in his books, which could be purchased for a fraction of the program’s tuition or even taken out of a library for free.
The suits also allege that Trump University was promoted as an accredited university even though it was not. In 2005, New York education officials sent the school a letter warning that it couldn’t call itself a university without having accreditation. Trump officials promised to stop programs in New York, but later resumed them — still using the Trump University name.
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