SAN DIEGO — In his first public hearing on Trump University since being called a “hater of Donald Trump” by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel on Wednesday heard arguments about whether the candidate’s videotaped testimony in the case should be released to media organizations.
Curiel did not mention the attacks by Trump, who during a rally here in May and in other remarks accused the Indiana-born judge of being biased because he is Hispanic and Trump has proposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Curiel pushed Trump’s attorney to defend his position that the videos should remain confidential.
“One of the touchstones of the cases has been protecting the integrity of the proceedings,” Curiel said, asking Trump attorney Daniel Petrocelli to explain how releasing the videos would jeopardize that.
Petrocelli responded that the videos “would be subjected to massive and perhaps unprecedented public dissemination.”
The transcript of Trump’s deposition in the civil fraud case against his seminar company has already been made public, but media organizations, including The Washington Post, are seeking release of the video.
In May, responding to a motion filed by The Post citing the public’s interest in a potential president, Curiel ordered the release of hundreds of pages of internal Trump University documents that showed the company’s aggressive tactics in recruiting customers and pressuring them to spend more money. In his order, Curiel noted that Trump had “placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue” and noted that courts deciding on public disclosure must weigh “whether the case involves issues important to the public.”
The class-action case, one of several in which former customers allege they were defrauded by a program that did not live up to its promises, is scheduled to go to trial in November after the presidential election. Trump and his lawyers have said the plaintiffs represent a small group of dissatisfied participants and have submitted positive reviews by others to argue that Trump University delivered a valuable service.
The deposition of Trump was conducted over two sessions in December and January as he was battling for the GOP nomination.
The transcript, which was released last month, showed the candidate defending the company but at times unable to recall specifics.
He repeatedly said, for example, that he could not remember the names or faces of individual Trump University instructors, though the program’s literature had advertised that instructors were “hand-picked” by the real estate mogul.
In motions filed with the court, Trump’s attorneys had argued that “the potential for harm and prejudice is far too great” if the videos are made public and that they could be used for purposes “including for harassment or political gain.”
Dan Laidman, an attorney for the media consortium seeking release of the deposition video, said videos enhance accuracy and provide “a full picture.”
The media lawyers argued that Trump’s status as a presidential candidate who is basing his pitch to voters in large part on claims of his business successes — including Trump University — make the depositions of particular public interest.
Attorneys for the group suing Trump University wrote that Trump has already tainted the jury by effectively trying the case in the media with inflammatory statements on the judge’s ethnicity and stating that his side will win.
“The extensive campaign that Mr. Trump has waged to taint the jury room, that’s really the elephant in the room,” said Jason Forge, an attorney for the plaintiffs, during Wednesday’s hearing.
Trump’s comments about Curiel — including describing him as “Mexican” — set off a firestorm. Polls showed that many Americans found them racist, and they were roundly condemned across the political spectrum, including by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
Trump eventually put out a lengthy statement claiming that his attacks on the judge had been “misconstrued” as an assault against all people of Mexican heritage. He said he had questioned Curiel’s impartiality because of “unfair and mistaken rulings” but said he planned to no longer comment on the case. Though Trump has periodically referred to the case in response to questions, he has not recently repeated his personal attacks on the judge.
Trump’s legal team has never moved to have the judge removed. Petrocelli told reporters after a hearing in May that Curiel was “doing his job.”
“We’re not seeking to recuse the judge,” he said then.
Rosalind S. Helderman in Washington contributed to this report.