The federal judge once referred to by the President of the United States as “a total disgrace” who handed down “unfair rulings” supposedly because of his ethnicity, has once again ruled in Donald Trump’s favor, granting final approval to a $25 million settlement in fraud cases stemming from his real estate seminar side hustle, Trump University.
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel approved the final settlement, ruling that a last-minute objection from a class member who wished to opt out and pursue her own case against Trump University would not be allowed to proceed.
In a Thursday hearing, Judge Curiel called the settlement “extraordinary.”
After years of refusing to settle two class action lawsuits and a New York civil case against him—“I could have settled but won’t out of principle!” he once tweeted—in November of last year, just days after winning the election, Trump surprisingly agreed to the hefty settlement, which meant some 3,700 students who felt they’d been swindled by Trump University would be paid back around 90 cents on the dollar of what they had invested.
But just when the years-long—and, by all accounts, hard-fought—battle had come to a resolution, a single class member, Sherri Simpson of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, filed an objection. Simpson, who according to court documents paid $19,000 to learn Trump’s secrets, wanted to opt out of the settlement and sue on her own. According to Simpson’s complaint, the settlement didn’t allow members to withdraw from the class, despite a 2015 notice that said it would. Adding further intrigue, Simpson, who had appeared in a number of anti-Trump political advertisements in 2016, was represented by Gary Friedman, an attorney with a history of ethical violations (a judge removed him from a 2015 case, calling his private communications with opposing counsel “improper and disappointing conduct”) along with another lawyer who had helped run Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s recount campaign.
“I wished to exercise my right to proceed to trial, rather than settle,” Simpson said in a declaration filed to the court this week. “I felt my interests had been betrayed by Class Counsel.”
Simpson sought to pursue an individual case against Trump, she said. But her withdrawal could have endangered the entire deal, struck in part to end fraud claims that threatened to dog a sitting president.
In an interview with The Daily Beast earlier this month, Friedman said Simpson wanted more than just a check. “She wants her day in court. She wants Trump to admit wrongdoing,” Friedman said, a stipulation that the current agreement specifically excludes.
In response to her motion, the plaintiff’s lawyer Rachel Jensen sent a letter to Simpson suggesting Friedman had violated ethical rules in soliciting her involvement in the objection that “could jeopardize tens of millions of dollars in recoveries to thousands of Trump University student-victims who need relief now, not years down the line.”
Jensen urged Simpson to participate in the settlement, which would likely result in a $15,000 payout, according to the letter.
Though an exact figure is unclear, Trump reportedly pocketed millions from roughly 10,000 students who signed up for his unlicensed and unregulated school from 2005 to 2010. Seminars operated on a scale with students paying between $1,495 for a three-day workshop to $35,000 for a program that promised personal mentoring from “hand-picked” instructors, most of whom Trump had never even met, according to Trump’s own admissions in depositions.
Under the settlement, Jensen wrote in a filing last week that Gold Elite members would likely get a check for $30,000. “No rational actor could expect to do better at trial,” she wrote.
With Judge’s Curiel’s agreement, the Trump University case can finally be put to bed and thousands of people—including elderly couples and veterans—will soon see some of their money returned.
Though hope is not entirely lost for future would-be claimants. On Twitter and in speeches, Trump has repeatedly vowed his intention to revive Trump University, whatever the final outcome of the multiple fraud claims.
In May, the presidential candidate promised his crowd of supporters, “If I don’t win, and even if I do win, we want to open—my kids will open it up again, because it was a terrific school. It was great. It was good.”