SAN FRANCISCO-- After spending more than six years in litigation, San Diego’s Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd negotiated a $25 million settlement in the Trump University suit right before the actual trial in late November.
The suit alleged that Trump University made fraudulent claims about its real estate seminars and many who attended the seminars purportedly lost large sums of money with no real results, the suit stated.
In a Nov. 29 National Law Journal interview, Jason Forge, who is one of the firm’s attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, explained that being able to offer everyone in the suit at least half of their money back was a success.
“To be able to say to every class member, ‘You'll get more than half your money back, and maybe more,’ is, if not unprecedented, pretty darn close,” Forge told the National Law Journal. “In many respects, it was a very easy decision for us once we started talking about real money. And the total damages in that case were about $17 million. The settlement case for a higher amount of money than the total damages was for us something that, looking at it from the best interest of class members, we couldn't credibly say no to.”
Forge explained that the settlement resolved two class actions in California and another brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The National Law Review quoted Trump as saying he doesn’t settle, but in this case, he did. Forge said the election was clearly a part of the reason why Trump decided to resolve the issue before he took office.
“It's hard to place his priorities before he became president-elect with priorities once he became president-elect,” Forge said in the interview. “In the primaries and the general election, he effectively used the mantra, ‘There's no such thing as bad press.’ Once he's president-elect, the rules of engagement changed.”
Forge told the National Law Review that Trump was probably prepared to fight the suit, but being elected changed his perspective.
“There was no question the statements that he made about hand-picking these instructors were flat-out false,” Forge said. “I think he was fully prepared to fight this thing, but I do think he saw some benefits to putting it behind him that didn't necessarily exist before. I don't think any sitting president would want to kick off his or her administration by defending a fraud case.”
Forge said he was disappointed that the case did not go to trial, but because of the extenuating circumstances of Trump being elected president, the firm chose the best course of action for the plaintiffs. He explained that a trial could have been dragged out for years.
“Obviously, both sides saw risks in going to trial and thought the benefits of settlement outweighed those,” Forge said. “It was an unusual situation, no question about that. It was hard-fought litigation on both sides. It was a very difficult trial to walk away from. But there was no doubt in my mind this was the best decision for the class. No doubt.”
In the settlement, Trump did not admit any wrongdoing and the plaintiffs’ lawyers chose not to take a fee on ethical principle.