Trump settles class action suit for $25 millionOnline Only, Top Highlights, Around the Nation Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016
A 75-year-old man who took expensive real estate courses from the defunct Trump University was thrilled Friday upon learning that President-elect Donald Trump agreed to a $25 million settlement in a class action that will repay losses to him and about 7,000 other former students.
“Incredible! I’m thrilled!” said Sonny Low to KFMB-TV (Channel 8) in an interview with reporter Richard Allyn.
Low was a key plaintiff in the class action suit. He is still paying for the courses he took in 2010 when he charged $27,500 on his credit cards for classes held in San Diego hotel rooms.
“I believed (Trump). He was going to have hand-picked mentors and we would be able to learn some of his secrets,” said Low.
“When the mentor came – the $25,000 mentor who knew less than I knew – it was a waste of my time,” said Low.
Trump advertised the classes were taught by his “hand-picked mentors,” but in video depositions, Trump could not recall any of their names. Trump University, which had a D-minus rating from the Better Business Bureau and was unaccredited, closed in 2010. They met only in hotel rooms for classes that lasted a week or less.
The settlement was announced Nov. 18 in U.S. District Court in San Diego, just 10 days before a 4-week jury trial was to begin on allegations of breach of contract, false promises and violations of the California Business & Professions Code.
Trump’s attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, told reporters Trump made the settlement because he needs “to focus on his transition” to the White House before his Jan. 20 inauguration.
“We were happy to avoid this … trial. President Trump is pleased to have this case behind him,” said Petrocelli. “This distracted him. He can (now) focus on the monumental issues he faces.”
“We think it’s a victory for everyone. He can view this through his rear view mirror,” said Petrocelli. “I’m very pleased he put aside his personal interest in order to settle the case.”
The settlement also covers the Trump University lawsuit that was filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in 2013. In a statement, Schneiderman said Trump “swindled thousands of innocent Americans out of millions of dollars.”
“Every victim will receive restitution and Donald Trump will pay up to $1 million in penalties to the state of New York for violating state education laws,” said Schneiderman.
“Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeals and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university,” stated Schneiderman.
Low’s attorney, Amber Eck, said former students’ repayments will range from 55 percent to full recovery of their losses. Eck said she worked for Low and others pro bono and he will not have to pay her any attorneys’ fees.
“Some people charged the course on three credit cards or five credit cards. A lot of them are still paying this amount off,” said Eck.
“A lot of them lost houses, pulled money out of their retirement, so it really means a lot to me and to them to be able to get their money back,” said Low’s attorney.
U.S. Judge Gonzalo Curiel must approve the settlement agreement Dec. 19, but with both sides in favor, it will likely be approved by Curiel.
Trump made no admission of liability or wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement, which is often a standard condition of settlements.
Curiel was strongly criticized by Trump in June, with Trump saying he gave “unfair rulings” because he was “a Mexican judge.” Curiel was born in Indiana, and his parents were from Mexico. Trump claimed Curiel was biased against him because “I’m building a wall.”
Trump’s attorneys had no complaints with Curiel, who delayed the trial at Trump’s request until after the presidential election. Before the settlement was announced, Trump’s attorneys were asking for a new trial date in April, 2017 when they said Trump would be less busy.
The civil trial would have been difficult because potential jurors would have been asked about the lawsuit and if they could set aside any thoughts about it and also about Trump. The lawsuit was mentioned during presidential debates by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat who lost to Trump, a Republican, Nov. 8.
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