Three Interesting Tidbits About Trump University


For some reason I got curious about the whole Trump University thing this afternoon, so I started googling sort of randomly to learn more about it. I came across several interesting items that seemed worth sharing, but I don’t really have any special narrative to put together about them. Instead, here’s a semi-random three-part Trump U dump. Be sure not to miss footnote 2!

1. The Evolution of Trump’s Racist BS Against Judge Curiel

A few days ago the whole world suddenly went ballistic because Donald Trump went after the judge in the Trump U case. But this is nothing new. Three months ago he railed against judge Gonzalo Curiel at a rally in Bentonville, Arkansas: “We have a very hostile judge….tremendous hostility, beyond belief. I believe he happens to be Spanish, which is fine, he’s Hispanic, which is fine….but we have a judge who’s very hostile.” The next day he told Fox News Sunday: “I think it has to do perhaps with the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border, very, very strong at the border, and he has been extremely hostile to me.”

Curiel has since gone from Spanish to Mexican to “of Mexican heritage,” but Trump has basically been peddling this racist BS for months. So why is it that no one seemed to care much about it back in February, when it might have mattered?

2. The 98 Percent Satisfaction Rate

Back in November Steven Brill wrote a really good piece about Trump U for Time. If you have any interest in this case, you should put aside a few minutes to read it.

One of my favorite bits is about Trump’s most treasured defense, which is that all the suits against him are the work of a tiny number of malcontents. “Listen to me,” he said in February, “98 percent of the people that took the courses, 98 percent approved the courses, they thought they were terrific.” Trump has a whole website devoted to this, 98percentapproval.com. Here is Brill:

Trump’s director of operations Mark Covais…declared that the satisfaction percentages were taken from “about 10,000” surveys of Trump University customers. Yet in the same affidavit Covais said that there were 7,611 tickets sold to Trump University programs….How could Trump have 10,000 “rave” surveys from paying customers if there were only 7,611 paying customers?

….The more apparent inconsistency is that Covais…declared that the company had issued 2,144 refunds to 6,698 attendees of the $1,495 three-day program, or 32%. That a third of the customers demanded refunds is hard to reconcile with a claimed 98% satisfaction rate….Similarly, the refund rate for the $34,995 program, which according to the lawsuits was tougher on giving money back, was 16%. If at least 31% of one group and 16% of the other were so instantly dissatisfied that they immediately demanded refunds, how could 98% have been satisfied?

How indeed? Perhaps it’s just the usual Trump “puffery,” his second-favorite defense for the lies he told about Trump U?

3. Is Judge Curiel Biased Against Trump?

I Am Not A Lawyer™—about which more later—but I was still curious about whether Judge Curiel has, in fact, ruled against Trump overwhelmingly. So I googled a bit until I got bored. Here are the rulings I could find:

March 1, 2014: After years of legal maneuvering, Curiel allowed two cases against Trump to go forward. “Curiel certified one case, Tarla Makaeff vs. Trump University, as a class-action in California, Florida, and New York. The plaintiffs had hoped it would get certified in all 50 states. Curiel also narrowed down the pursuable actions from 14 to 5. In a second related case, Art Cohen vs. Donald J. Trump, Curiel denied Trump’s motion to dismiss the case.” I’d score that as two anti-Trump rulings (both cases were allowed to move forward) and one pro-Trump ruling (the class-action was limited to three states).

October 29, 2014: Curiel certified Cohen’s suit as a class action. That’s one anti-Trump ruling.

April 20, 2015: Trump countersued the plaintiff in one of the cases, Tarla Makaeff, and she eventually won a motion to dismiss Trump’s suit as a nuisance.1 She asked for $1.3 million in costs, and the case was sent to Curiel for resolution. “Curiel found the rate requests for associates and partners reasonable, but denied Makaeff’s request for staff attorney and paralegal fees….Curiel scaled back the number of hours expended on most of the plaintiffs’ 25 proceedings by 20 percent, others by 50 percent and some he declined entirely, reducing the fees award by $542,920.85 to $790,083.40.” That sounds fairly pro-Trump.

July 3, 2015: Curiel ruled that Trump would have to testify about his net worth: “Publicly available figures of Trump’s wealth have been the subject of wild speculation and range anywhere from $4 to $9 billion,” Curiel ruled. “Simply stated, plaintiffs are entitled to answers made under penalty of perjury.” I think we can safely call that one anti-Trump.2

November 18, 2015:  Trump lost a bid for summary judgment throwing out the suits. However, Curiel ruled in his favor against an injunction that would have prohibited further false advertising. That’s basically one ruling against Trump and one for him.

March 22, 2016: Curiel allowed Makaeff to withdraw as a lead defendant in her case. He dismissed Makaeff’s claims and denied Makaeff’s request to bar Trump from any further litigation he may file against her. He allowed the defense to re-depose the other main plaintiff, Sonny Low, and ruled that Trump would “likely be entitled to some award of fees and costs.” That’s one ruling against Trump and four in favor.

April 26, 2016: Curiel issued an order setting a July 18 hearing on a motion by Trump’s lawyers to toss out the Cohen v. Trump case. “The judge also plans to take up other motions, including one asking that the case be stripped of its class-action status.” This seems neither pro nor anti-Trump.

May 6, 2016: Curiel set a November 28 date for one of the suits. “[Trump’s lawyer] asked for a trial after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, but the judge raised concerns about distractions if Trump wins the election.”

May 27, 2016: Curiel ruled in favor of a Washington Post motion to unseal several exhibits in the Trump U lawsuits. This is the ruling that ignited Trump’s most recent hailstorm of attacks on Curiel.

I dunno. Does this pattern show any kind of bias for or against Trump? Trump seems thoroughly convinced that the whole case against Trump U should have been tossed out on summary judgment instantly, and the fact that Curiel didn’t do that means he’s “tremendously hostile.” Of course, that’s Trump’s view of anyone who does something Trump doesn’t like. But summary judgment was never very likely in these cases, and aside from that Curiel seems to have ruled for and against Trump fairly evenly. Hell, even Trump’s own lawyer blew off Trump’s rantings: “He’s got very strong views about everything and he expressed his own views,” he said, before acknowledging that, no, he didn’t plan to ask Curiel to recuse himself.

What’s more, a local TV station interviewed a San Diego lawyer who pointed out the obvious: “Judge Curiel gave lots of his rulings before Trump made those comments about the border and illegal immigration.” And: “NBC 7 checked federal court records and confirmed Von Helms’ claim.” Curiel has been on these Trump U cases off and on since 2010, and obviously Trump’s views on a border wall couldn’t have influenced him before June of last year.

Now, I realize this is all sort of pointless. I think we all know perfectly well that Curiel is just an ordinary judge, and Trump is ranting against him because that’s what Trump does whenever something doesn’t go his way. He whines. Endlessly. Still, I’m kind of curious. It would be interesting if some kind of qualified lawyer type went through the records of these trials and reported back on whether Curiel seems to be conducting things fairly. Maybe he’s not! Maybe he really does hate Trump. Unfortunately, I suppose that would be a lot of work. Oh well.

1But only after an appeals court overruled District Judge Irma Gonzalez, who had ruled in Trump’s favor. Another Hispano-Mexican judge!

2Wait. What? Trump was required to testify under penalty of perjury about his true net worth? Yes indeed. And I believe he’s already given that deposition. Oddly, though, he’s never mentioned that, and hasn’t brought it up in any of his recent ravings either. I imagine there’s a good reason for that: If this becomes common knowledge, someone will ask him what number he provided under oath. Does he really have any good excuse not to share that with us?