SAN DIEGO (AP) — A federal judge who has been a target of criticism from Donald Trump is taking time to decide whether to release videos of the Republican presidential candidate testifying in a civil lawsuit.
Trump's attorneys worry the images will be used to tarnish his campaign. U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel said Wednesday during a hearing in San Diego that he will focus on whether there is "good cause" to protect the material over the public's right to evaluate the videotaped deposition by Trump regarding the fraud allegations against now-defunct Trump University.
Curiel pressed Trump's attorney during the hour-long hearing to specify what harm the videos might cause. Wednesday was the first time Curiel faced Trump's attorneys since the judge permitted the release of unrelated documents in a class-action lawsuit alleging fraud, a move that led Trump to intensify his unusual attacks on the judge that included mention of his Mexican heritage.
Curiel asked Trump's lawyer Daniel Petrocelli to explain how the potential harm overrides the public's right to evaluate a presidential candidate and potential future "leader of the free world?"
Petrocelli answered: "The court's duty is not to facilitate public elections. The court's duty is to facilitate a fair trial."
The lawsuits allege that Trump University, which wasn't accredited as a school, gave seminars and classes across the country that were like infomercials, constantly pressuring students to spend up to $35,000 for mentorships and, in the end, failing on its promise to teach success in real estate.
News organizations want full transcripts and video of Trump testifying at an all-day deposition Dec. 10 at his New York office and for three hours on Jan. 21 in a Las Vegas law office. Nearly all transcripts have been released.
Petrocelli told Curiel that he has no problem with unsealing the remaining transcripts, but the video clips would be used in campaign attack ads and elsewhere, tainting the jury pool.
"They would be subjected to massive — perhaps unprecedented — public dissemination," Petrocelli told the court.
He pointed out another judge in a lawsuit involving Hillary Clinton's email practices allowed the release of deposition transcripts, but no video.
News organizations argue that the public has a right to the complete record, given how Trump has touted his business acumen. Dan Laidman, the lawyer representing the news organizations, said the clips would enhance the accuracy of reporting on the case.
Lawyers representing Trump University's former customers say the videos present "a more complete picture" than the transcripts.
Trump can be seen in them explaining his blog posts in 2008 that Bill Clinton was a great president and Hillary Clinton would make a great president or vice president. Of his praise for Hillary Clinton, he said: "I didn't give it a lot of thought, because I was in business."
Curiel did not say when he will issue his ruling.
An adverse ruling for Trump may test his pledge in early June to avoid talking about the judge. Trump's earlier remarks on the judge's ethnicity drew criticism from Republican leaders.