Before being sworn into office, President-elect Donald Trump could face a federal jury in California, courtesy of a lawsuit by former students of his now-defunct Trump University who claim they were defrauded by a series of real-estate seminars.
A hearing in federal court in San Diego is set for Thursday, and the trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 28, barring any delays or if Trump decides to settle the case, Reuters reports.
While presidents enjoy immunity from lawsuits arising from their official duties, the US Supreme Court has held that this shield does not extend to acts alleged to have taken place prior to taking office.
The 1997 ruling came in the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against President Bill Clinton by Paula Jones, which was settled before it went to trial.
Lawyers said they could think of no similar situation like the one now involving Trump.
“I’m certain there is nothing comparable to this,” said Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School.
Lawyers for both Trump and the plaintiffs declined to comment.
Dershowitz said the Supreme Court also held that a case cannot be delayed just because the defendant is president, though judges are still free to grant reasonable delays to any party.
Miami trial consultant Sandy Marks, who is not involved in the case, said he thought Trump might ask the presiding judge, Gonzalo Curiel, to postpone the trial in an effort to settle the case before taking office.
“I think the judge would be foolhardy not to give him a short [delay],” said Marks, “which would give him a chance to resolve the case with all these people and put it behind him.”
Trump repeatedly claimed on the campaign trail that he would win the lawsuit, and he accused Curiel of being biased against him because of his campaign promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico. The judge was born in Indiana to Mexican parents.
Trump is listed as defense witness in the case and could be called to testify by the plaintiffs as well. He was previously deposed by the students’ lawyers.
Claims against Trump over the seminars date to 2010, with two class actions filed in federal court in San Diego and another case brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on behalf of students who claim they were misled into paying as much as US$35,000 each to learn worthless real estate investing “secrets” from instructors “hand-picked” by Trump.
Trump has admitted he did not hand-pick instructors, but has argued the claim was marketing language not meant to be taken literally. He claims most students were happy with their courses.
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