The real estate mogul’s behavior is proving to be a legal nightmare
Far be it from me to throw my hat into the ring of Presidential punditry, but Donald Trump has provided an opening.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been fending off serious backlash for Trump University, among other things, which is back in the headlines after a federal judge ordered 1,000 pages of internal Trump U documents be made available to the public. Those documents, unveiled yesterday, reveal what many are now calling a sophisticated scheme that was intended to scam people out of money. The basis for that conclusion comes from the so-called Trump U Playbook, which instructed would-be salespeople how to earn a prospective student’s trust, only to lead them down a shady, destructive financial path.
From the New York Times: “One sales manager for Trump University, Ronald Schnackenberg, recounted how he was reprimanded for not pushing a financially struggling couple hard enough to sign up for a $35,000 real estate class, despite his conclusion that it would endanger their economic future.”
“The language employed by Trump University’s sales team is similar to that of multilevel marketing scams like AdvoCare and Amway, and even certain cults,” wrote Olivia Nuzzi of The Daily Beast, which parceled through the documents yesterday.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has said that he will prosecute Trump to the full extent that he and the state of New York is able, calling the situation a “straight-up fraud case,” not a political one.
In the meantime, Trump defaulted to his usual shtick by levying insults toward his critics and, more surprisingly, the judge overseeing his case. He made reference to the idea that Judge Gonzalo Curiel has been out to get him. He later derided the Indiana-born Curiel as “Mexican” during a Trump rally and re-ignited his tendency to make racially suggestive commentary, all of it setting yet another dangerous precedent as he trucks along to the Republican nomination.
Even if Trump knew how stupid he sounded before he stood in front of a microphone, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. The intent was to defame, damage and offend his way out of a corner. In a normal world, that would pose problems for any litigant.
But Trump is not normal. Since announcing his run for the presidency, his campaign has capitalized on the pettiness that emboldens him and his followers. It’s become so normalized that the Trump contingent likely can’t recognize the damage Trump is doing to himself or the legal process.
That makes attorneys like me lose sleep at night. Trump has instigated a far more complicated legal battle than he or his lawyers bargained for. Worse, his example has inspired recklessness by challenging his detractors with petty insults rather than evidence. How long before other litigants start doing the same, whether it’s an ill-advised tweet, a Facebook post, or airing their grievances in a public forum? We always encourage our clients to refrain from discussing their case outside the courtroom. I never imagined that might one day include advising people to refrain from personally attacking the judge presiding over our case.
From the outset of the legal profession, attorneys have had to protect clients from hurting themselves. It’s worth thinking about how we can protect them from examples like Donald Trump.