Trump U Trial Coming Despite Election Win

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — President-elect Donald Trump heads to trial in the first of two class actions against his now-defunct real estate school Trump University later this month, and his attorneys will be in court Thursday to tell a federal judge why election fodder should be barred as evidence.     Low v. Trump University kicks off the Monday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28. The six-year-old case is one of the oldest — if not the oldest — cases on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel”s docket. Curiel denied Trump”s request months ago to delay the trial date until after a possible inauguration, opting to schedule it for between the election and official transfer of executive power.     Sonny Low and the other plaintiffs sued Trump in 2010, saying they spent upwards of $35,000 to learn insider real estate secrets from instructors purported to be handpicked by Trump. It turned out Trump had little involvement in Trump University, and his attorneys said the school relied on “sales puffery common in advertising” to capitalize on Trump”s celebrity and name brand.     At Thursday”s hearing, Trump”s lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli will implore Curiel to block any election fodder said by or about Trump during his stump for president from coming into evidence. If Curiel approves the blanket request, jurors won”t hear the comments Trump has said on Twitter and in interviews about his taxes, sexual assault allegations, failing casinos and other campaign issues he was heavily criticized for during his stump for president.     But it also means blocking potential evidence relevant to the case, including comments he”s made about Trump University and derogatory comments he made about Curiel”s Mexican heritage, and his assertion Curiel could not preside over a fair trial because of Trump”s campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deport immigrants.     The comments directed at Curiel caused many Republican leaders to denounce Trump”s questioning of the court. Pepperdine law professor Jason Blakely previously told Courthouse News in a phone interview Trump has “called into question” procedures and branches of government, essentially blurring the lines between the judiciary and executive.     “He”s created zones of unaccountability around his language,” Blakely said. “That”s what”s striking about his request: he”s trying to essentially create unaccountability around his language in the courts.”     Blakely said Trump”s comments about Curiel ring alarm bells over how he”d use his executive powers.     “Trump verbally is willing to blur the lines between the executive and the judiciary,” Blakely said. “Is he going to continue to try to influence the courts? How much of that will actually play out in terms of judicial appointments and using the presidential pulpit to discredit judges?”     The plaintiffs in the Low case decried Trump”s motion, saying the request requires “the court create a new category of immunity to protect him from himself and would essentially “rig” the trial by “hiding the jury from his own words.”     The vagueness of Trump”s blanket request should be grounds for denial, the plaintiffs argue, since it is “practically boundless” and does not specify what evidence Trump and his legal team want to exclude.     Many legal experts have speculated Trump will likely settle before the Nov. 28 trial date, although there was no immediate indication he would do so following the election.     University of Utah law professor Christopher Peterson penned an academic paper in September about how the fraud allegations against Donald Trump”s real estate school rise to the level of impeachable offenses, even though — if proven — it occurred before he was elected. Peterson told Courthouse News in a phone interview following the election if he were advising Trump, he”d work to get the case settled as soon as possible.     “If I were advising President-elect Trump, I would encourage him to move heaven and earth to spare the country the spectacle of a president facing a fraud trial,” Peterson said.     “As it stands, this trial will cast a shadow on the early days of his presidency and will be a major distraction if he tries to bring the country together and pursue his agenda.”     He said Trump”s previous resolve to see the case to trial and a countersuit he filed against a former plaintiff were “typical examples of his litigious bullying.”     “In my view, if the allegations of fraud and racketeering are true, there is still a legally sufficient case to impeach him. It”s just whether there is the political will to do so,” Peterson said.     Thursday”s hearing on motions to exclude evidence is set to begin at 1:30 p.m. ‘

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California Approves New Orca Exhibit at SeaWorld

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — With the green light from the California Coastal Commission to revamp its orca encounter, SeaWorld can begin rebuilding its reputation as a marine mammal educator following years of fallout over keeping the creatures in tanks for entertainment.     The California Coastal Commission on Friday unanimously approved SeaWorld”s application to revamp its orca exhibit, which the company promised to do after saying this past March it would stop breeding orcas and make the current generation of orcas its last. While SeaWorld will focus on cosmetic above-ground changes aimed at making its orca experience more educational — including a backdrop depicting the Pacific Northwest — the original plan to expand the orca tanks has been scrapped.     According to plans submitted to the Coastal Commission, the new “Orca Encounter” will focus on how killer whales behave in the wild, including interactive displays about how the whales hunt, navigate and communicate. The new setup will take the place of the current theatrical “Shamu Show,” which will be phased out, and will feature a rugged coastal inlet with faux Douglas fir trees, cliffs and waterfalls.     The park”s orca trainers will keep a close eye on the whales during construction to ensure they aren”t distressed. The whales will also be kept in tanks furthest from construction noise, according to the project proposal approved by commissioners.     Orca Encounter has support from multiple San Diego politicians including Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, as well as former SeaWorld critic Humane Society of the United States     SeaWorld spokesman David Koontz said construction on the new Orca Encounter will begin in January 2017, and will open next summer.     SeaWorld San Diego president Marilyn Hannes said Orca Enounter will ensure the company complies with new legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown which requires captive orcas be used for educational rather than entertainment purposes.     “Orca Encounter takes killer whale presentations to a new level of education, allowing us to inform millions of park guests over the next several decades about the natural history, physical abilities and the conservation steps necessary to ensure the future survival of this species in the wild,” Hannes said in an emailed statement.     SeaWorld has struggled with attendance numbers following the 2013 release of the documentary “Blackfish.” Company leaders including its CEO have since said SeaWorld needed to publicly respond to demands that it stop breeding orcas, which the park says it has done.’

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From Bankruptcies to Trump U:|The Effect of Trump”s Legal Woes on Politics

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — Three weeks after Tuesday”s election the first of three lawsuits against Trump University is slated to go to trial. Trump”s trail of litigation — 3,500 lawsuits by USA Today”s count — is unprecedented for any presidential candidate and has remained a central theme of his candidacy and the reporting on his run for office.     While the electorate does not yet know who will be elected the 45th president, legal and political science experts talked to Courthouse News about what Trump”s campaign means for American politics going forward and, especially, what a Trump presidency could mean for the executive branch of government.     The candidate”s approach to a challenge, particularly a legal one, was on display at a rally in San Diego this past May, when Trump told a crowd of thousands of supporters not what he would do to “Make America Great Again,” but why a local federal court judge was biased against him.     It was an issue Trump had brought up before and had been touched on by moderators during Republican candidate debates, but at the San Diego rally Trump doubled down on his attack of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel who is presiding over two class actions against Trump”s now-defunct real estate school Trump University.     In the days following the San Diego rally, Trump repeated in several interviews — including ones with CNN, CBS and The Wall Street Journal — there was a conflict because of Curiel”s Mexican heritage and Trump”s campaign promise to “build a wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border. He even called for the judge to recuse himself, though Trump”s lawyers never formally filed the request.     It wasn”t until major Republican Party leaders — including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — called on Trump to cease discussing the case and Curiel”s ethnicity, did Trump issue a statement saying he wouldn”t talk it anymore.     But the issue had already been raised, mostly by Trump himself. Trump University officially became a campaign issue and has remained one up until Tuesday”s election.           Trump”s Litigation Trail     Christopher Lewis Peterson, a law professor at University of Utah, wrote an academic paper in September outlining how the fraud allegations against Donald Trump”s real estate school rise to the level of impeachable offenses if he”s elected president.     Peterson, who”s spent his career working on consumer-protection issues and years at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, said in a phone interview that just because the Trump University cases are civil and not criminal does not mean the allegations should be disregarded.     “Sometimes people who aren”t carefully considering the seriousness of this case think that because it”s civil, no crime occurred. And that”s simply not the case,” Peterson said.     The law professor pointed out civil fraud and racketeering claims, like the ones Trump faces over Trump University, are different from criminal claims only in it shifts of the burden of proof.     Trump faces two separate class actions in San Diego”s federal court — Low v. Trump University and Cohen v. Trump — in addition to a third case filed by New York”s attorney general. Former students rely on essentially the same claims of fraud, saying they spent upwards of $35,000 to learn insider real estate secrets from instructors purported to be handpicked by Trump. It turned out Trump had little involvement in Trump University and his attorneys said the school relied on “sales puffery common in advertising” to capitalize on Trump”s celebrity and name brand.     Peterson said Trump”s brand was used to “woo people into spending their life savings” and the presidential nominee”s issues with Curiel don”t hold water “since the evidence indicates he likely defrauded” students.     “There”s no credible argument the legal system wasn”t working. Advertising materials and evidence said he would handpick instructors and then he testified he didn”t. He lied to people in order to facilitate taking their life savings and should be held accountable,” Peterson said.     A court document filed recently in the Low case to seems to signal that Trump”s attorneys are scrambling to do damage control over the comments lodged at Curiel — and the plaintiffs suing him — that were publicly decried by Republican leaders. Trump”s lead attorney in the case, Daniel Petrocelli, asked Curiel to issue a blanket order excluding any statements made by or about the presidential nominee during his stump for President.     Peterson said its “improbable” Curiel would grant that request, as the comments would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. And in their response papers, the plaintiffs argue Curiel should deny Trump”s request precisely because he “chose not to identify a single statement he wishes to exclude.”     The law professor said Trump”s legal issues speak to his “honesty and how he treats people who have supported him” and will not disappear even if he gets elected.     “The notion there would be a sitting president who could be found to have violated RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] is unprecedented. It”s astonishing that we could even come close to that happening,” Peterson said.     “The takeaway is when the dust settles on this case and the election, we as a country need to take the nomination process and process of vetting our candidates much more seriously. If a candidate has pending charges of fraud or racketeering that might be a good reason to move on to somebody else,” Peterson said.     Another law professor, Jonathan Lipson from Temple University, has studied Trump”s casinos and the unprecedented four bankruptcies he filed in relation to the drowning business venture. Lipson”s interest was piqued when he read a New York Times article on Trump”s casinos but said he wanted to know what happened to the employees. He found after analyzing documents from the Casino Control Commission, Trump”s Atlantic City casinos did far worse compared with other New Jersey casinos. But while 900 employees at each of Trump”s casinos lost their jobs, he took home on average $3.2 million in cash.     “He”s not shy about this, he”s bragged he took a lot of money out of the casinos,” Lipson said. “He”s so compelling because he appeals to American workers, but if you support him because you think he will save your jobs from a foreign threat, you should reconsider. He borrowed way too much money, and the truth is he probably wasn”t a very effective negotiator during the bankruptcy proceedings. You see this pattern that might leave a lot of his supporters very disappointed if that”s what he does when he”s president.”     Lipson said Trump”s election stump has been largely based on his success as a businessman, but if the American electorate uses his casino venture — and even Trump University — as a gauge of Trump”s success, they would come up short.     “When Trump says he”s a good businessman, what he means is he”s good at taking a lot of money for himself. He took enormous amounts of money even though he left his investors high and dry,” Lipson said.     Lipson said Trump”s appeal could stem from his aggressive use of the legal system.     “The thing about Trump and law that is interesting is he”s a big user of the legal system and he”s very shrewd and aggressive about pushing the boundaries of the system,” Lipson said. “The same is true of his bankruptcies and taxes. He”s appealing to some people who like aggressive leaders.”     For Pepperdine University political science professor Jason Blakely, Trump”s politicization of the Trump University litigation shows he is “willing to call into question a certain set of procedures and branches of government.”     As for Trump”s request to keep election fodder out of Curiel”s courtroom, it “surprised political scientists,” Blakely said.     “He”s the most able politician in being able to drive bias in the news cycle. Trump has been able to bury what he says not by retracting what he says but by saying something new,” Blakely said. “He”s created zones of unaccountability around his language. That”s what”s striking about this request: he”s trying to essentially create unaccountability around his language in the courts.”     Trump”s attempt to equate Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton”s email scandal to his countless lawsuits and “shoddy deals” is an attempt to “wash him of any responsibility,” Blakely said.     While many pundits and political experts thought Trump”s litigation trail and corruption accusations would make Trump unelectable during the primary, Blakely said that hasn”t happened in large part because Trump”s a “master teller of his own story.”     “He”s a tough-made model of private sector success, which is how he presents himself — as a master of entrepreneurial spirit and grit. But that”s a bad narrative because there are parts of his life that don”t fit that narrative,” Blakely said.     Even though Trump has said on the campaign trail he”d use his executive powers in ways presidents before haven”t, Blakely said no one really knows if Trump would act on those promises if elected President.     “He says a bunch of things that ring alarm bells,” Blakely said. “Trump verbally is willing to blur the lines between the executive and the judiciary. Is he going to continue to try to influence the courts? How much of that will actually play out in terms of judicial appointments and using the presidential pulpit to discredit judges?”     Voters will find out the answer to that question after Tuesday — if Trump wins the election, of course.     ‘

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Police Restraining Order Denied in Calif. Protests

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal court judge denied a request late Friday for a temporary restraining order against El Cajon law enforcement from protesters who say they were wrongfully arrested at a late-night vigil for police shooting victim Alfred Olango.     U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino found that two separate incidents in which the El Cajon Police Department declared protests as “unlawful assemblies” did not warrant injunctive relief against law enforcement.     “Irreparable injury must be more than merely possible,” she noted in her 14-page order.     The judge pointed out that protesters had returned to the vigil site multiple times between Oct. 2 and Oct. 14 without incident.     The protesters” attorney Bryan Pease said in an interview that Sammartino”s ruling “withheld deciding the merits of our case for now, and instead found that there was not enough evidence that the actions of police will be repeated.”     The protests centered around the incidents of Sept. 27, when El Cajon Police Officer Richard Gonsalves shot and killed Olango in a strip mall parking lot 15 miles east of San Diego.     Upset over the death of a friend, Olango was having a mental health crisis when Gonsalves and Officer Josh McDaniel approached him in response to a 911 call from Olango”s sister.     Olango held a metal object up and took a “shooting stance” before Gonsalves shot him four times and McDaniel deployed a stun gun.     Olango turned out to be holding an e-cigarette.     After the shooting, hundreds of protesters from all over San Diego County descended on El Cajon to protest the killing of Olango, an unarmed black immigrant from Uganda.     Police say the protests were mostly peaceful, but on Oct. 1 more than a dozen protesters were arrested after what officers described as a “shift in the demeanor of the crowd” when a fight broke out and reports arose that someone was going to get a gun.     On Oct. 15, a group of protesters reportedly blocked an intersection and attacked motorists, prompting the owner of the strip mall to ask police to arrest the participants for trespassing.     The protesters, led by the San Diego chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, sued the San Diego County sheriff and El Cajon Police chief Oct. 17.     Judge Sammartino found she didn”t even need to consider the plaintiffs” request for the temporary restraining order to block law enforcement from declaring “ongoing peaceful vigils to be unlawful assemblies” and from “threatening to arrest” individuals just for being at the strip mall.     “[The protesters] have not shown that law enforcement has a specific blanket policy of erroneously enforcing [state laws],” she wrote, nor was there a “persistent pattern” of law enforcement incorrectly applying state laws.     The judge noted the protesters” request “seeks only to tell law enforcement to follow the law” and that it lacked the specificity and detail needed to warrant injunctive relief.     But Pease said additional incidents since the ruling have “[shown] police misconduct is continuing and ongoing.”     He added that his clients may seek another temporary restraining order.     The Sheriff”s Department declined to comment.’

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Suit Over Calif. Hospital Bid Survives Review

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — California Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris cannot dodge claims by hospital giant Prime Healthcare Services that she schemed with a workers” union to deny a hospital acquisition, a federal judge ruled.     Prime Healthcare Services owns and operates 28 hospitals throughout the U.S., while nonprofit Prime Healthcare Foundation owns seven nonprofit hospitals donated by Prime Healthcare Services.     Prime claims Harris improperly denied its $843 million proposed acquisition of the Daughters of Charity Health System.     On Monday, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel granted in part and denied in part Harris” motion to dismiss Prime”s first amended complaint. He granted Prime leave to amend some of its claims.     In her capacity as attorney general, Harris supervises California charitable organizations and enforces nonprofit rules regarding property sale and acquisition. Nonprofits that operate health facilities must provide notice and obtain written consent from the attorney general before selling some of its assets to a for-profit corporation.     According to Curiel”s 45-page Oct. 31 order, Harris must consider at least nine factors specified by the statute in deciding to approve a sale, including whether the transaction would have a significant impact on the accessibility of health care services.     If the transaction is approved, the attorney general”s policy is to require a hospital continue providing the same level of healthcare services for at least five years after the sale, including emergency-room services.     The attorney general considers information from the seller about the transaction and is required to hold at least one public meeting to hear comments from those interested or affected by the sale. If the sale could significantly impact existing healthcare services, an independent healthcare impact statement is issued, according to Curiel”s summary.     Prime claims Harris conspired with hospital workers” union Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West to block Prime from acquiring nonprofit hospitals in California until it agreed to allow workers to unionize.     Prime and the union have apparently been in a dispute over unionizing since 2009, according to court papers.     “Harris refused to reasonably approve the sale because Prime rejected SEIU-UHW”s extortionate demands to unionize workers at all Prime hospitals and did so in quid pro quo exchange for the union”s continuing financial support of her political career, including her current candidacy for the U.S. Senate,” Prime”s complaint states.     Prime claims the union donated to Harris” 2010 and 2014 campaigns for attorney general and promised to donate up to $25 million to her Senate campaign if she outright denied Prime”s acquisition or imposed conditions that would be a de facto denial of the sale.     Harris denied Prime”s proposed acquisition of another hospital, Victor Valley Community Hospital, in 2011, prior to denying the Daughters of Charity Health System sale in 2014.     Prime claims the 2011 denial was the first time Harris denied the sale of a California nonprofit hospital. It says the union has publicly claimed credit for Harris” shutdown of the deal.     The union went on a media campaign, creating a website and airing TV ads, urging Harris to deny the sale, Prime claims.     After Prime was picked by Daughters of Charity Health System following a 13-month bidding process to acquire its five nonprofit hospitals and a skilled nursing facility for $843 million, the healthcare company claims Harris attached a stipulation that four of the five hospitals and the skilled nursing facility maintain the same services for 10 years. The company also claims Harris made that request before the report had even been written.     “Prime alleges that the attorney general”s 10-year conditions were unprecedented and rendered the proposed transaction operationally and financially unviable, requiring Prime to operate the financially failing hospitals at a loss for 10 years,” court records show.     The conditions were a de facto denial, Prime says, and it withdrew its bid to purchase the Daughters of Charity Health System Hospitals.     The healthcare corporation speculates Harris will approve Blue Mountain Capital Management”s bid to purchase Daughters of Charity Health System Hospitals and will likely impose five-year, instead of 10-year, conditions.     The case was moved last year from Central California federal court to the state”s Southern District.     Curiel denied to dismiss the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, but granted Harris” motion to dismiss Prime”s Fourteenth Amendment and National Labor Relations Act claims.     The judge also denied the company”s declaratory judgment and permanent injunction requests.     He found Prime”s quid pro quo claims that Harris and the union schemed to deny the hospital transaction fails the plausibility requirement because the allegations do not “allow the court to draw a reasonable inference of misconduct on Harris” part.”     Instead, Prime”s allegations focus on the union and its leaders, but the union”s communications with Harris and donations to her campaign do “not plausibly suggest an illegal agreement between Harris and SEIU-UHW,” Curiel wrote.     The judge also pointed out that if Harris and the union had schemed together, there “would have been no need at all” for the extensive media campaign and TV ads calling on Harris to halt the sale of the hospitals to Prime.     As for Prime”s claim about Harris accepting $25 million from the union in exchange for blocking the hospital transaction, Curiel says it is “not based on factual information that makes the inference of culpability plausible.”     Curiel found Prime did not have a property interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment since Harris exercised her right under the Nonprofit Hospital Transfer Statute to deny, consent to or conditionally approve a transaction as attorney general. The judge also noted the statute did not require Harris provide a reason for the conditions she imposed on her final decision.     Prime Healthcare is represented by Mark Hardiman with Hooper, Lundy and Bookman in Los Angeles.     A spokeswoman for Prime Healthcare said, “The Attorney General Kamala Harris” wrongful decision regarding the sale of the Daughters of Charity Health System has been challenged by Prime Healthcare in order to ensure all California citizens are treated fairly and equally under the state and federal constitutions. We are pleased that the court gave us the opportunity to amend our cause of action based on the attorney general”s violation of Prime”s constitutional right to equal protection. We are carefully evaluating our legal remedies and the next steps in this important case.”     A press secretary for the attorney general”s office did not respond Friday to an email request for comment.’

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Trump U Students Call|Election Fodder Fair Game

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — Former Trump University students suing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump say things he”s said and have been said about him on the campaign trail should be fair game during a class action trial later this month.     In an opposition to Trump”s motion to exclude election fodder filed Tuesday, Sonny Low and the other plaintiffs say Trump”s request demands “the court create a new category of immunity to protect him from himself.”     The class sued Trump in 2010, claiming he defrauded Trump University students with a “get rich quick” scheme that was supposed to teach real estate secrets to those hoping to cash in on the foreclosure crisis. Some students paid upwards of $35,000 for advice they claim was little more than an infomercial.     In the final countdown to the post-election trial, both parties filed a host of documents on Oct. 20 detailing evidence they”d like U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel to exclude from trial. Most notably, Trump wants everything he said or has been said about him during his presidential stump — including things he”s said about the case, plaintiffs and judge — from being allowed as evidence. The candidate claims he will be prejudiced if evidence that “has nothing to do with the trial” but everything to do with the election is allowed by Curiel.     But the plaintiffs say Trump wants to “rig” the trial by “hiding the jury from his own words.” They say no court has provided the kind of “blanket immunity” Trump wants, simply because the comments he”s made are “so numerous Trump does not even try to identify them all.”     The plaintiffs want Curiel to deny Trump”s blanket order, saying the candidate “has only himself to blame.” Trump”s motion should be denied outright for vagueness, since it is “practically boundless” and does not specify what evidence Trump and his legal team want to exclude, they add.     “By casting such an overbroad net, defendants hope to ensnare even admissible evidence with a sweeping ruling that would inflict maximum collateral damage on plaintiffs” ability to put on their case-in-chief, impeach witnesses or rebut evidence,” according to the opposition.     Because Trump is an individual defendant in the case and it”s primarily about his conduct related to Trump University, what he”s said and has been said about him the past 1 ½ years should not be excluded by a blanket order, the plaintiffs say.     “As they have demonstrated throughout this litigation, plaintiffs have no desire to politicize this case. On the other hand, Trump has repeatedly done so,” the class says     They add they should not have to do Trump”s work “for him” by trying to identify what he wants excluded.     “He chose not to identify a single statement he wishes to exclude, and neither the court nor the plaintiffs should attempt to fill in this gigantic blank by identifying examples of inadmissible and admissible statements,” the class says.     Among the list of vague topics Trump seeks to exclude is information related to his other business ventures — including Trump Organization, which the plaintiffs say was interconnected with Trump University. Trump also wants to exclude statements made by politicians or public servants, including a finding by the New York State Education Department that Trump University unlawfully called itself a “university.”     The class claims the evidence is not unfairly prejudicial, but could be harmful to Trump”s defense. They even point to a “Saturday Night Live” sketch where actor Alec Baldwin, playing Trump, said the election was rigged by “taking all of the things I say, and all of the things I do, and putting them on TV.”     According to the class, “Simply because evidence tends to undercut Trump”s defense or ability to appear as a credible witness cannot warrant its exclusion.”     Without specifics, the plaintiffs say the court has no “way of sensibly ruling” on Trump”s motion to exclude other than to deny it.     A hearing on the motions to exclude evidence is scheduled for Nov. 10.     The trial kicks off Nov. 28.’

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Cheated in Skyscraper Deal, Class Claims

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — A group of investors who purchased space in a Philadelphia skyscraper in a massive $152 million deal claim their broker and lender cheated them out of millions.     Lead plaintiffs Dennis Dierenfield, William Gilmer and others say their broker Commonwealth Land Title Company cheated them out of millions when they purchased property at 1818 Market Street in Philadelphia in 2006. The class action was filed Oct. 26 in San Diego Superior Court and was Courthouse News” Top Download on Monday and Tuesday.     The class of less than 100 plaintiffs purchased property at the 40-story skyscraper, which houses business offices in downtown Philadelphia. They claim their lender, defendant Wells Fargo”s predecessor Wachovia Mortgage, breached escrow instructions by tacking on a $9.6 million unauthorized mortgage loan which was used to pay out kickbacks, including $5.9 million in commission to an unlicensed real estate broker.     According to the 39-page complaint, each plaintiff paid a proportionate share of $47.8 million as an equity contribution in what was supposed to be $132 million loan, putting down $478,000 each for a 1 percent ownership interest in the property. A final “buyer closing statement” provided by defendant TICOR Title Company of California to each of the plaintiffs does not show any payments inconsistent with the closing instructions, the plaintiffs claim. They also point out they did not “receive or authorize any other instructions that would be in conflict with the instructions.”     It wasn”t until eight years later, in October 2014, that the plaintiffs say they discovered the defendants breached escrow instructions when closing on the massive property. They say they learned about the illegal and unauthorized loan used to pay kickbacks to promoters — including the $5.9 million kickback to Triple Net Properties Realty, which the plaintiffs claim was not a licensed broker at the time of the transaction — from attorneys involved in separate litigation related to the property who investigated and found three mortgages against the property and unauthorized distributions from escrow, the plaintiffs say.     Triple Net Properties is not a party to the class action.     The plaintiffs say TICOR “engaged in an atypical escrow arrangement” and disbursed the entirety of plaintiffs $33 million in deposits without delivering the required deed, “contrary to well-recognized and established industry practices and procedures for the protection of escrow clients such as plaintiffs.”     The money was wired to an account controlled by Triple Net Properties, where plaintiffs” deposits were combined with loan proceeds from three loans, establishing lender reserves and millions which were paid in undisclosed kickbacks, according to the complaint.     That illegal third mortgage increased the total mortgage debt to 91 percent and reduced plaintiffs” equity, the plaintiffs say in their complaint. They also claim there were only supposed to be two loans totaling $132 million, but there were three loans disbursed to acquire the property for $152.8 million as determined from transfer tax stamps discovered by the plaintiffs” attorneys.     The class action involves 11 causes of action including breach of escrow contract, implied contract, statutory duties applied to escrow companies and fiduciary duty of escrow company; constructive fraud; negligence; breach of mortgage agreement; aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty; breach of title policy; estoppel; and unfair business practices.     The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of those who provided equity funds to directly or indirectly acquire tenant in common interests in the property in 2006.     Attached to the complaint are 158 pages in exhibits.     The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages, a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions to prevent the defendants from engaging in unlawful business practices.     Defendants include Commonwealth Land Title Company and its insurance company, TICOR Title Company of California and Wells Fargo Bank.     The plaintiffs are represented by Kenneth Catanzarite of Anaheim, California, who did not wish to comment on the case. Commonwealth Land Title Company did not return a phone request for comment.’

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Parties at Odds Ahead|of Trump U Trial

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — With the first Trump University class action approaching its post-election trial date, recently filed court documents reveal attorneys on both sides still can”t agree on how the trial should be litigated.     Attorneys for both parties in the Low v. Trump University class action have submitted the first of their proposed jury instructions and special verdict forms which will advise the jury of the issues at hand in the consumer protection case.     Sonny Low and the other plaintiffs sued Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his now-defunct real estate school in 2010, claiming they were duped into paying upwards of $35,000 to learn insider real estate secrets from instructors purported to be handpicked by Trump himself. It turned out Trump was not involved much in the selection of teachers, and his attorneys have since said the school relied on “sales puffery” common in the advertising world to market itself as relying heavily on Trump”s celebrity.     The trial will be two phases, with the jury tasked to decide in phase one if Trump is liable for using false advertising to get thousands of people to invest in Trump University. If Trump is found liable, phase two will determine what damages should be awarded to the former students.     In a host of court documents filed over the past few months, attorneys on both sides have revealed their inability to cooperate as the trial nears. Months after the trial date was set by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Trump”s lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli tried to get the trial date pushed back due to a conflicting trial scheduled in another federal court. The plaintiffs” attorney Jason Forge vehemently opposed the request, calling it a “tactical decision that should not be rewarded by the court,” and Curiel denied pushing back the 6 ½-year-old case.     The latest trial documents filed Oct. 28 by the plaintiffs say the class “did their best” to jointly submit proposed jury instructions agreed upon by both parties, but Trump and the other defendants failed to respond to the plaintiffs” edits. They claim Trump tried to “limit plaintiffs” ability to respond to newly cited authorities” and refused to authorize the filing because plaintiffs” “corrected defendants” last-minute misrepresentation of a prior order of this court, among other changes.”     The class adds, “Plaintiffs remain ready and willing to collaborate with defendants and reach agreement to the extent possible, but cannot do so on their own.”     Nearly every jury instruction in the massive 148-page filing was disputed by the plaintiffs or defendants.     The plaintiffs want Curiel to allow them to respond to any further changes made by Trump and the others to the jury instruction document which Curiel will read to the jury before the trial begins.     That supposed misrepresentation cited by the class is regarding the “sales puffery” argument that”s been a main sticking point for the parties throughout the past year. The plaintiffs say Trump University misrepresented to consumers instructors were handpicked by Trump himself in violation of California Consumers Legal Remedy Act. That misrepresentation was material, the plaintiffs say, in that consumers relied on it in deciding to purchase a Trump University education and the defendants knew consumers would rely on the misrepresentation when making a purchase decision.     Low and the other plaintiffs object to Trump”s proposed jury instructions on materiality and puffery, saying the defendants “misleadingly” put brackets around Curiel”s prior order on puffery — adding nothing to the analysis in an improper “attempt to insert the issue as a separate inquiry for trial.” The plaintiffs also say the separate jury instruction on puffery “improperly engraft additional elements onto plaintiffs” claims” and argue the definition of puffery is “subsumed” by the definition of material making it unnecessary to distinguish between the two. They also claim jury instructions on puffery are “rarely, if ever, given.”     Surprisingly, the parties agreed on instructions prohibiting jurors from discussing the details of the high-profile case in person or electronically, a standard instruction read to jurors deciding civil cases. It does not appear the jurors will be subject to heightened security concerns surrounding the case, but more information could be revealed in a jury questionnaire not yet filed with the court.     The Low v. Trump University trial is set begin Nov. 28. ‘

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‘International ”Grandma Scam” Dismantled’

‘     SAN DIEGO (CN) — San Diego”s district attorney announced Monday that her office helped bring down an international fraud scheme based in India that targeted the elderly.     District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced her office”s involvement in an international federal take-down of 20 suspects based in the U.S., along with 32 outside the country and five call centers in India.     The defendants ran multiple schemes including the “Grandma Scam” that cheated an 86-year-old San Diego woman out of $65,000 because she believed her grandson was in trouble in another country, Dumanis said.     The suspects used information obtained from data brokers to contact potential victims and impersonate officials from IRS or Immigration. They would then threaten potential victims with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay “taxes or penalties” to the government, Dumanis said.     According to the San Diego County News Center, the international web of fraudsters scammed 86-year-old Beth Baker in 2014. She received a phone call from someone claiming to be with the U.S. Embassy in Peru who told Baker her grandson had been arrested in connection with a car accident and needed bail money. Over the course of a week, Baker emptied out her savings account and drove all over San Diego County to purchase pre-paid credit cards for $1,000 each. She then read the card numbers over the phone to the scammer — essentially transferring the money to him, Dumanis said.     The DA”s elder abuse unit has been investigating Baker”s case for the past two years. Investigator Paul Holman traced Baker”s money through what prosecutors called an “intricate labyrinth,” which led them to an Indian national living in Corona, California, who had laundered much of the money stolen from Baker.     Dilipkumar “Don” Patel was one of the people the Department of Justice indicted last week — he now faces prosecution in Houston. A search of Patel”s home turned up bank documents, computers and cell phones showing he laundered more than $4.2 million in a year, Dumanis said.     Beth Baker”s son, Jim Baker, told reporters it wasn”t until his mother went to the bank and tried to take out a loan that her personal banker realized she was being scammed and alerted Jim. He said he felt guilty he did not know what his mom was up to even though she acted strangely when he talked to her on the phone and skipped visits to her husband at the veterans hospital.     But Jim said his mom was trying to protect his son, who she believed was in trouble, and so complied with the scammers” “gag order.”     Jim cautioned people to check-in with their elderly parents and ask questions if they start to act out of the ordinary.     Another elderly San Diego victim, also in her 80s, lost $12,000 in the scam, Dumanis said.      Prosecutors have called on other potential victims to come forward despite their potential embarrassment. ‘

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