Judge approves $25 million settlement in Trump University lawsuits

Doug Stanglin and Nick Penzenstadler
Real estate mogul Donald Trump (R) speaks as university president Michael Sexton (L) looks on during a news conference announcing the establishment of Trump University May 23, 2005 in New York City.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

A federal judge in San Diego on Friday approved an agreement under which President Trump will pay $25 million to settle long-simmering lawsuits over his now-defunct Trump University.

The decision ends nearly seven years of legal battles with customers who claimed they were misled by failed promises to learn Trump's secrets of real estate success.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego settles two class-action lawsuits and a civil lawsuit by New York.

Even before last year's presidential campaign, Trump vowed never to settle but changed his position after the election, saying he did not have time for a trial. Under terms of the settlement, he admits no wrongdoing.

Read more from USA Today:
Failed Trump University leaves students hanging
Donald Trump: Three decades 4,095 lawsuits
Trump reassigns White House deputy chief of staff to outside group

In a statement, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the settlement will provide relief and "hopefully much-needed closure" to the "victims of Donald Trump's fraudulent university."

He said the plaintiffs "waited years for compensation while President Trump refused to settle and fought us every step of the way — until his stunning reversal last fall."

The lawsuits alleged Trump University offered seminars that were more like infomercials, pressuring customers to spend more and, in the end, failing to deliver.

The settlement, which affected about 6,000 former Trump University students, included a $1 million penalty paid to New York state for violating its education laws — the program called itself a "university" despite offering no degrees or traditional education.

Curiel approved a preliminary settlement in December, and attorneys in the case predicted that the former students would get at least 80 percent of their money back, based on the roughly 3,730 claims submitted, the Associated Press reported.

Curiel considered a last-ditch effort by a Florida litigant, Sherri Simpson, that could have derailed the settlement effort. Simpson's attorneys filed motions in court this week claiming she was confused by the initial class action notifications. She sought to preserve her rights to pursue treble and punitive damages against Trump separately from the class action.

As part of Friday's ruling, Simpson will likely receive about $15,000. She purchased the extended "elite" level program through Trump University for $35,000 to be paired with a mentor who would teach Trump's secret real estate investment strategies.

Simpson said she relied on Trump's own words throughout the fall that he would never settle the case, quoting him, "in a case I could have settled very easily, but I don't settle cases very easily when I'm right ... I don't settle cases. I don't do it because that's why I don't get sued very often, because I don't' settle, unlike a lot of other people."

Simpson said she and a partner got little for the tuition money — the videos were 5 years old, the materials covered information that could be found free on the internet and her mentor didn't return calls or emails.

"I would like an admission that he was wrong, an admission that, 'Oops, maybe I didn't handle it as well as I should have, I didn't set it up as well as I should have, that I didn't maintain it or oversee it as well as I should have,'" Simpson told AP this week. During the election, she appeared in two anti-Trump campaign ads.

Attorneys for both Trump and the plaintiffs have said the deadline to opt out passed in November 2015. Thirteen people opted out before that date, none of whom have shown a desire to sue the president. Another customer, Harold Doe, objected to the settlement because he wants more money, according to court filings by attorneys for Trump and the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit dogged Trump during the campaign, and the GOP nominee seemed to make the matter worse at times by attacking Curiel. Trump suggested that the judge's Mexican heritage exposed a bias, since Trump campaigned on building a wall between the USA and Mexico. Curiel was born in Indiana.

Watch: Settlement in Trump U suit

$25M settlement in Trump University suit: Reuters