SAN DIEGO – President-elect Donald Trump wants to delay the federal fraud trial he faces here Nov. 28 until after his inauguration in January, his attorney told a judge on Thursday, two days after Trump was elected president.
When the judge asked why, Trump's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, summed it up like this:
"In view of Mr. Trump’s election as President of the United States, your honor."
Petrocelli also questioned whether Trump actually would be available to testify in court as a sitting president. He said never has there been a case in the history of the United States in which a president had to come into court to testify in a trial as a defendant. Trump might testify by video instead.
"His obligations right now are just monumental," Petrocelli told U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
Curiel said he understood and said it would be wise for the two sides to settle the case, a class-action fraud lawsuit involving Trump and his now-defunct Trump University.
The lawsuit was filed in 2010 on behalf of former Trump University customers, who alleged that the Trump University real estate courses didn't deliver what they promised. They claim they were ripped off and lost tens of thousands of dollars after being misled about it.
At Curiel's suggestion, Petrocelli said he was open to the help of another federal judge, Jeffrey Miller, in trying to find a way to settle before trial.
"I can tell you right now I'm all ears," Petrocelli told Curiel.
Petrocelli said he would make a formal request to delay the trial by Monday. After court Thursday, Petrocelli told reporters Trump wanted to testify in person before his election as president.
"Now he’s going to have to take into account whether that’s the best use of his time, and he has to weigh his desire to be here against the needs of the country right now," Petrocelli said.
Curiel didn't say how he would rule but said he expects the case to last into mid-December if it starts as scheduled. An attorney for the plaintiffs, Jason Forge, told USA TODAY after the hearing that he didn't think the request for a delay got any traction with Curiel.
"It’s hard to say a sitting president is less busy or more expendable than a president-elect," Forge said.
Curiel previously tentatively denied a request to ban statements made by and about Trump during his presidential campaign from being used as evidence in the trial, including his tweets and speeches.
It was a bit of a surreal scene. And it’s just getting started.
Not only was the defendant just elected the nation's 45th president, but the judge is Curiel, whose fairness in the case previously was questioned by Trump because of his Mexican heritage. Trump previously called him “a hater” and described his actions as “a total disgrace.”
Representing Trump was Petrocelli, the attorney who helped defeat former football star O.J. Simpson in a wrongful death case in 1997. In that case, he represented the family of murder victim Ron Goldman.
"We’re in uncharted territory, and I think we need a little bit of a timeout here to see if there's any way to resolve these claims," Petrocelli told Curiel.
Among the dozens of lawsuits faced by Trump or his businesses, the most problematic could be the Trump University cases.
Former students from across the country have sued in two class actions, accusing the school of charging them up to $35,000 and lying about the value of the lessons they would receive.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued in 2013 and has since described Trump University as a “fraud” and a “scam.”
While the open cases are civil, some legal scholars raise the prospect that a court could ultimately find Trump University or even Trump personally liable for fraud. In the worst case, a finding that fraud took place — even by a civil court — could provide Congress with the grounds to consider impeachment proceedings.
After Thursday's hearing, Petrocelli told reporters that the pending case in San Diego presented "very difficult circumstances for a sitting president" but even more so for a president-elect.
Petrocelli said that's because Trump has "a mountain of challenges in front of him to get himself up to speed and do the hard that work that needs to be done so there’s a seamless transition of power from one administration to the next."
Petrocelli said Trump wants to be vindicated in this case and that it would be to his disadvantage to not attend the trial in person. "But circumstances may be that it's just not possible," he said
He said he doesn't know if Trump has any willingness to settle this case after fighting it this far.
Contributing: Nick Penzenstadler
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer on Twitter @Schrotenboer . E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org