A lawyer for President-elect Donald Trump’s business holdings told a D.C. judge Tuesday that her client and the celebrity chef Trump is suing for millions of dollars in a breach-of-contract lawsuit are at an “impasse” and expect to go to trial.
During a hearing in D.C. Superior Court, attorney Rebecca Woods said that mediation talks failed last year, and her client, Trump Old Post Office LLC, Trump’s Washington hotel property, has been unable to reach an agreement with restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian.
“We continue to talk settlements in good faith, but we are at an impasse,” Woods told Judge Brian F. Holeman. Zakarian’s attorney, Deborah Baum, agreed with Woods.
Woods added that she did not see a need for another round of formal mediation talks.
With that, Holeman scheduled a pretrial conference hearing for May 17. He told both sides that the date could be changed if either side needed more time.
If an agreement is not reached, Holeman, not a jury, will hear the case.
In an unusual move during the hearing, Holeman left the bench and held separate, private meetings with the attorneys outside the courtroom for about 10 to 12 minutes. Details of those discussions were not disclosed in open court.
The Trump-Zakarian legal battle began when the chef backed out of a deal to open a restaurant last fall in Trump’s luxury hotel complex in the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue. Zakarian cited Trump’s derogatory public comments about illegal immigrants from Mexico, saying those remarks made it impossible for him to run a successful dining establishment in the Trump property.
Trump sued Zakarian for $10 million, basing that figure on expected losses after Zakarian’s decision to back out. In recent court filings, however, Trump’s representatives raised the estimated loss to about $14 million.
Next week, just a week before Trump is to be sworn into office, the president-elect is to be deposed in New York in connection with a lawsuit against another famed chef, José Andrés. Andrés also pulled out of Trump’s Washington hotel project after Trump’s comments about illegal immigrants.
The hearing occurred under unusual heightened security for a civil case, even though neither any Trump family member nor Zakarian was present. A few court security officers were stationed inside and immediately outside the courtroom.