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Lawsuits over Trump business threaten to tie up presidency

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As a businessman, Donald Trump has kept the courts busy. That's hardly likely to change when he enters the Oval Office, creating an unusual and potentially serious problem for a sitting president.

Only a handful of presidents have undergone legal depositions during their terms, and even fewer have become embroiled in private lawsuits. Trump is poised to join that small club.

Just last week, the president-elect sat for a deposition in a lawsuit involving his Washington hotel, and he is still tied up in legal disputes that are to proceed after Inauguration Day. Trump is also caught up in an investigation by the New York attorney general into whether he used his charity for personal benefit.

While Trump has said he will turn over management of his company to his adult sons, he has left open the possibility he will keep not only an ownership interest but the legal liability that accompanies it. Legal experts worry that would leave him more exposed to lawsuits, including ones financed by deep-pocketed political opponents who could use the courts as one more battleground to fight his administration.

"He is going to be not just a litigation magnet, but a litigation vortex that sucks in every political and personal adversary he has," said Norman Eisen, the Obama administration chief White House ethics counselor from 2009 through 2011. Eisen has encouraged Trump to sell his assets and put the cash in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest and legal pitfalls.

Under constitutional immunity protections, Trump can't be sued over official acts in the Oval Office. But he could be named in lawsuits for personal actions or those involving his businesses. That raises the prospect of a President Trump answering questions under oath in more depositions, as President Bill Clinton did in the Paula Jones case that led to his 1998 impeachment by the House of Representatives.

The danger for Trump is heightened given the sprawling nature of his business, the Trump Organization.

"We've had presidents before who were rich, but we're in some uncharted territory given Trump's wealth and his myriad of business interests," said Saikrishna Prakash, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law who specializes in constitutional separation of powers.

Prakash said potential plaintiffs may think Trump would be more likely to settle cases.

In the weeks after the election, Trump paid $25 million to settle three lawsuits alleging Trump University misled students into paying as much as $35,000 a year for instruction of little value. Trump said he did nothing wrong and was only settling so he could focus on the presidency.

The Trump Organization's general counsel, Alan Garten, said the company is not more vulnerable to paying judgments to plaintiffs, noting that Trump sat for a deposition last week instead of settling. He said he wasn't worried about future legal attacks funded by political opponents. "People will be wasting their time," Garten said.

Trump has decided to pursue two lawsuits against chefs— Jose Andres and Geoffrey Zakarian— who pulled out of restaurant deals in his new Washington hotel after the candidate made disparaging comments during his campaign about Mexican immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

The hotel may be facing additional legal entanglements. As The Washington Post recently reported, contractors have filed liens against the property in the past month, saying they are still owed money for their work. Garten said that contractors filing liens aren't unexpected given the hotel was such a big project, and that they aren't a big deal.

Allegations of unpaid work are at the center of another pending dispute.

In October, a circuit court awarded more than $310,000 to a Florida paint store for money owed for a renovation of one of Trump's golf resorts, but the case is still pending on appeal.

Trump is also coming into office with a pending state investigation into his charity.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched an investigation of The Donald J. Trump Foundation last year after news organizations revealed that Trump used the charity to settle lawsuits, make an illegal $25,000 political contribution to a group supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and purchased items such as a painting of himself that was displayed at one of his properties.

In December, Trump said he would dissolve the charity to avoid conflicts of interest, but Schneiderman has said the charity cannot close while the investigation is going on. Trump does not face the potential for criminal charges in that investigation, but he or the foundation could face fines and other civil penalties.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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