SAN DIEGO -- A judge on Friday approved an agreement for President Donald Trump to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits over his now-defunct Trump University, ending nearly seven years of legal battles with customers who claimed they were misled by failed promises to teach success in real estate.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel said the agreement represents an “extraordinary amount” of money for customers to recover. Plaintiff attorneys say about 3,730 people will get at least 90 percent of their money back.
The ruling settles two class-action lawsuits and a civil lawsuit by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that had dogged the Republican businessman throughout the presidential campaign.
Mr. Trump fueled the controversy by repeatedly assailing Curiel, insinuating that the Indiana-born judge’s Mexican heritage exposed a bias.
Mr. Trump had vowed never to settle. But he said after the election that he didn’t have time for a trial, even though he believed he would have prevailed.
The White House referred requests for comment to the Trump Organization, which didn’t immediately respond. Under terms of the settlement, Trump admits no wrongdoing.
Attorneys for the former customers say the money will allow people to retire debt-free and overcome other financial obstacles. The attorneys waived their fees, raising individual payments.
“Over the past seven years, our goal has always has been to help these everyday Americans move forward with their lives,” attorney Amber Eck said.
The Democratic New York attorney general said the ruling “will provide relief — and hopefully much-needed closure — to the victims of Donald Trump’s fraudulent university.”
“Trump University’s victims waited years for compensation, while President Trump refused to settle and fought us every step of the way — until his stunning reversal last fall,” said Schneiderman, who is contributing $1.6 million of his $4 million portion of the settlement to former customers.
The lawsuits alleged that Trump University gave nationwide seminars that were like infomercials, constantly pressuring people to spend more and, in the end, failing to deliver. Political rivals used Mr. Trump’s depositions and extensive documents filed in the lawsuits to portray him as dishonest and deceitful.
Curiel, in a 31-page decision accompanying his order, said exceptionally high payouts and objections from only two of an estimated 7,000 eligible former customers weighed in favor of his approval.
The judge strongly rejected a request by a Florida woman who argued that she should have been given more opportunity to opt out of the settlement. If he had agreed, the prospect of more litigation would have likely derailed the deal.
Curiel agreed with attorneys for Mr. Trump and those suing him that customers were properly warned that the deadline to opt out was in November 2015. He said Sherri Simpson, who paid $35,000 in 2010 for Trump University’s “Gold Elite” mentorship program and later appeared in anti-Trump campaign ads, missed her chance.
During an hour-long hearing Thursday, Simpson’s attorney, Gary Friedman, argued that language in the 2015 notice implied that customers would be given another opportunity to opt out and sue Mr. Trump on their own.
Customers were “provided, in no uncertain terms, notice of the right to opt out, and of the binding consequences of electing not to opt out,” Curiel wrote. “It clearly appraised Class Members that if they wished to bring a separate lawsuit against Defendants, they had to elect to opt out immediately.”
Curiel also denied an objection from another customer, Harold Doe, who sought more money.
Clearing those final hurdles brought closure to the trio of lawsuits, the first of which was filed in April 2010.
When attorneys reached a deal shortly after Mr. Trump’s election, Curiel said he hoped it would be part of “a healing process that this country very sorely needs.” A month later, he granted it preliminary approval.
The agreement came 10 days before a trial was set to begin in San Diego, sparing Mr. Trump what would have been a major distraction during his transition to the White House.