Federal judge gives preliminary approval for $25M Trump University settlement

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Real estate mogul Donald Trump (R) speaks as university president Michael Sexton (L) looks on during a news conference announcing the establishment of Trump University May 23, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO – A federal judge gave preliminary approval to a $25 million deal to settle a series of class-action lawsuits filed against President-elect Donald Trump and his now-defunct Trump University, Politico reported Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel set a final approval hearing for March 30.

Last month, New York’s attorney general announced the settlement just prior to a court hearing in San Diego on whether to delay the Nov. 28 trial of one of the cases. Trump’s attorneys had asked that the trial be delayed, saying Trump’s preparations to become president were “critical and all-consuming.” Trump did not acknowledge any liability in the settlement.

Read More: $25M settlement reached in Trump University lawsuits

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who sued Trump in 2013, accusing him of “swindling thousands of innocent Americans out of millions of dollars through a scheme known as Trump University,” had issued a statement confirming the $25 million resolution of the cases.

“Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeals and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university,” Schneiderman said. “Today, that all changes. Today’s $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.

“I am pleased that under the terms of this settlement, every victim will receive restitution and that Donald Trump will pay up to $1 million in penalties to the state of New York for violating state education laws,” he said. “The victims of Trump University have waited years for today’s result and I am pleased that their patience — and persistence — will be rewarded by this $25 million settlement.”

“We are pleased to announce the complete resolution of all litigation involving Trump University,” a Trump Organization spokesperson said.

“While we have no doubt that Trump University would have prevailed at trial based on the merits of this case, resolution of these matters allows President-Elect Trump to devote his full attention to the important issues facing our great nation.”

Trump University is the defunct, for-profit real estate seminar business Trump created in 2005. It promised to teach students investing techniques they could use to get rich on real estate, just like Trump.

It advertised that instructors were hand-picked by the mogul himself, but former students claimed that wasn’t true. In fact, Trump has suggested under oath that he was not very involved in hiring instructors, despite what the promotional materials suggested.

Some students ended up paying tens of thousands of dollars. While the initial Trump University seminar was free, teachers would then upsell them for another program. A “one year apprenticeship,” which was effectively a three-day seminar, cost $1,495, according to court documents. A “mentorship” cost at least $10,000 and the most expensive, the Gold Elite program, cost $35,000.

The settlement is a complete turnaround from Trump’s earlier position on the lawsuits.

“This is a case I could have settled very easily, but I don’t settle cases very easily when I’m right,” he said in March.

But since Trump was elected, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel urged the parties to settle the case to avoid the immense complications of a president-elect facing trial while preparing to take office.

One of Trump’s attorneys had indicated that he might change his position on settling.

Schneiderman said that he was pleased with the terms of the settlement. He first filed the suit in 2013.

“The victims of Trump University have waited years for today’s result and I am pleased that their patience — and persistence — will be rewarded by this $25 million settlement,” he said in a statement.

During the presidential campaign, Trump criticized Curiel’s rulings and handling of the lawsuit, saying the Indiana-born former prosecutor’s Mexican ancestry made him unfit to try the case because Trump made a promise to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Trump’s statements on Curiel were widely condemned, including by some GOP leaders.