U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel on Tuesday rejected a request by media organizations to allow the public release of hours of videotaped testimony by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in a California lawsuit over Trump University.
At the same time, Curiel also refused an effort by Trump’s attorneys to toss the case over his now-defunct real estate seminars, allowing it to proceed to trial.
The two rulings offered Trump mixed results from the federal judge he has repeatedly attacked as biased. Trump has accused Curiel of being unable to rule fairly in the case because of his Mexican heritage.
Curiel rejected a motion for summary judgment in the case, one of two pending in California in which former students of Trump’s real estate seminars argue that they were defrauded by false advertising. The second case is slated to go to trial in November, not long after the election.
The judge ruled that this case also can be heard by a jury, despite arguments from Trump’s lawyers that there was no evidence that Trump operated the program and could be held responsible for the advertising that the former students allege was fraudulent. They also argued that there was no evidence that the ads were false.
Curiel ruled that there was enough evidence that Trump University ads were false and that Trump had a hand in their creation. He said a jury should be allowed to decide the issue.
Daniel Petrocelli, a lawyer representing Trump in the case, said: “Although today’s decision merely holds that the case should proceed to a trial, we believe the case should have been dismissed now because it has no merit. We fully expect to prevail at trial.”
Trump’s criticism of Curiel came as the San Diego-based judge ordered the release of hundreds of pages of internal documents that showed how Trump University persuaded students to sign up for more and more expensive programs. Trump told the Wall Street Journal in June that the Indiana-born judge had an “absolute conflict” because of his Mexican heritage.
“I’m building a wall, okay?” he said on CNN, referencing his promise to erect a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration.
Those comments were widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans, and on June 7, Trump said in a written statement that his remarks had been “misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage.” He defended Trump University, citing positive surveys from students and said he did not plan to continue discussing the issue.
Trump has been deposed twice in the case, once in December 2015 and again in January. The transcripts of those sessions have been filed in court and released publicly. They show that Trump repeatedly indicated that he had never met instructors at Trump University, despite advertisements for the program indicating that its staff had been handpicked by the real estate mogul.
A coalition of media groups, including The Washington Post, had sought the release of video of the sessions. The group was supported by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who have argued that Trump’s costly real estate sessions amounted to fraud. They argued that Trump’s facial expressions and tone, available only via video, would add understanding of the testimony.
Trump’s attorneys countered that video would serve no legal purpose in the case but would instead be used against their client during the campaign and would taint the jury pool for the scheduled trial in the case.
Curiel found that those arguments had “some merit” and that courts have held that video should be held to a higher standard for release than written transcripts.
He wrote that it is “nigh-inevitable” that excerpts of the videos would be used in media reports and political ads nationwide, increasing the likelihood that prospective jurors would be exposed to the material before the trial. He wrote that although there is a legitimate public interest by the media in the content of the tapes, that interest can largely be served through the transcripts of Trump’s testimony.