In an unusual legal maneuver, Donald Trump's attorneys have asked a federal judge to exclude any statements made by or about the Republican nominee during the presidential campaign from his upcoming civil trial over the now-defunct Trump University.
The legal request, filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, would apply to Trump's tweets, a video of Trump making sexually predatory comments about women, his tax history, revelations about his private charitable foundation and public criticisms about the judge in the case.
Trump's lead attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, said the evidence would be irrelevant to the civil fraud case and may prejudice or inflame a jury, jeopardizing rights to a fair trial. He warned that allowing the jury to consider Trump's own remarks "carries an immediate and irreparable danger of extreme and irremediable prejudice to defendants, confusion of issues and waste of time."
A trial in the nearly 7-year-old class-action lawsuit is scheduled to begin Nov. 28. Petrocelli said prospective jurors will already have had an opportunity to vote in the presidential election by then. "It is in the jury box where they must judge him and this case only on evidence and argument relevant to the issues at hand," he wrote.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a target of Trump's repeated scorn, will consider the request at a hearing two days after the election.
The lawsuit on behalf of former customers alleges that Trump University, which was not accredited as a school, gave seminars and classes across the country that were like infomercials, pressuring people to spend up to $35,000 for mentorships and, in the end, failing on its promise to teach success in real estate. The claims mirror another class-action complaint in San Diego and a lawsuit in New York.
The request by Trump's attorneys applies to statements made during presidential debates and rallies, campaign advertisements, Trump's beauty pageants, casinos and corporate bankruptcies, statements by campaign surrogates and "personal conduct accusations." During the campaign, Trump questioned whether the judge can be fair because of his Mexican heritage.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, said the judge is unlikely to make a blanket ruling on the vast amount of material and will instead consider each statement that the plaintiff wants to use at trial.
"This is unique because I cannot think of another situation in which a political candidate would have wanted to exclude all of his campaign statements from being used at a trial," Chemerinsky said.
Michael Gerhardt, professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said it would make more sense to consider each piece of evidence separately as opposed to ruling on all campaign-related matters.
"It's probably unprecedented — both the request and any judicial order that would grant what he's asking," Gerhardt said.