Donald Trump moved closer to a jury trial over allegations he misled Trump University students with promises that seminars as good as the Wharton business school would be taught by his “handpicked” instructors.
Trump, 69, and the school on Nov. 18 lost a bid to throw out the claims by senior citizens and other disappointed students ahead of trial. The billionaire and his business, which stopped enrolling students in 2010 and changed its name to Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, convinced U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego there was no need for a court order barring further misrepresentations about the seminars.
A pretrial hearing is set for January in the 5-year-old lawsuit as the real estate tycoon pursues the Republican nomination for president.
A group of former students sued in 2010, claiming they were duped when they paid as much as $35,000 for real-estate seminars to receive “one-on-one mentorship, practical and fail-safe real estate techniques, a ‘power team’ consisting of real estate agents, lenders, personal finance managers, property managers and contractors.”
Trump University’s initial response to the lawsuit was to countersue the woman who filed it, accusing her of making false statements. The defamation claims were thrown out last year.
“We look forward to finally bringing this case to a jury, where we will show that 98% of Trump University students admitted to having a positive experience and everyone received a valuable real estate education,” Jill Martin, a lawyer for Trump, said Nov. 19 in a statement. “With this overwhelming evidence, we are confident we will win and finally put this attorney-driven lawsuit to rest.”
The trial will determine only whether Trump and his company are liable for violating California, Florida and New York consumer or elder abuse laws. Any damages will be reserved for further legal proceedings.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Trump in 2013, alleging he swindled students out of $40 million. The attorney general said Trump University operated as an unlicensed educational institution and conned students into believing they would gain real estate investing expertise.
Trump called the New York attorney general “incompetent” and a “lightweight.” The suit is pending. Other consumer cases were filed in Florida and California.
“If you go to Wharton or Harvard, they didn’t have a 98 percent approval rating,” Trump, who graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, told CNN after Schneiderman’s lawsuit was filed. “People loved the school. The school was terrific.”
Representatives of Trump’s campaign for president didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.
The case is Makaeff v. Trump University LLC, 10-CV-00940, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California (San Diego).