New record for Trump: lawsuits seeking public records soar

Perhaps in an attempt to find the truth behind what President Trump has decried as “fake news,” requests for government documents under the Freedom of Information Act have soared since he took office, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Syracuse University.

Donald Trump

The 63 public record lawsuits filed in April represented a 25-year high, said officials at The FOIA Project at the Newhouse School at the New York university said. Further, with 60 lawsuits filed already in May, it, too, is likely to be another record-setting month, they said.

Information sought includes records on Trump’s executive orders and last month’s missile attack on Syria. Lawsuits have also been filed to get warrant applications for surveillance activities and internal agency communications about China. People and organizations are also seeking paperwork about actions taken by the new director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and border searches by the Department of Homeland Security.

If the pace continues, university officials said they expect more than 579 public records lawsuits will be filed before the fiscal year ends in Sept. 30. By comparison, 512 Freedom of Information Act lawsuits were filed during the last fiscal year of the Obama Administration.

 

Federal judge to Trump: No disrespect intended

Dealing with Donald Trump can unleash unexpected fury as a federal judge in California discovered in June when the then-presidential candidate questioned the jurist’s Mexican heritage.

Trump ordered to pay $5.74 million to members of Jupiter club

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

In ruling against Trump on Wednesday, in a decision involving Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra made it clear he meant the new president no disrespect when he referred to him simply as Donald Trump or D. Trump throughout the 22-page order.

Six things to know about WPB federal judge who ruled against Trump

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But, to make sure there was no misunderstanding, Marra added a footnote.

From the archive: Bino commentary: Step aside, Judge Marra. It’s your turn to be an unsuitable Trump judge

“At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Donald J. Trump was a private citizen. As a result, the Court will refer to him as such in this decision. In doing so, the Court means no disrespect to him or to the esteemed position he now holds.”

Read more Donald Trump coverage from The Post 

Trump ordered to pay $5.77 million to members of Jupiter club

President Donald Trump’s development company on Wednesday was ordered to pay former members of its Jupiter golf club $5.77  million for improperly changing the rules when he purchased it in 2012.

Six things to know about WPB federal judge who ruled against Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

In a one-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled in favor of members who filed suit against Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on Donald Ross Road. He awarded them $4.8 million plus $925,000 in interest.

Federal judge to Trump: No disrespect intended

In a statement, the Trump Organization vowed to appeal.

At a trial in August, members argued that under Trump’s ownership they had been soaked for millions.  Trump purchased the ailing club from The Ritz Carlton for $5 million in 2012. The bargain price came with the understanding that he was responsible for the $41 million that Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa owed members in refundable deposits.

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Instead, members claimed, he refused to refund their deposits and continued to charge them membership fees while refusing to let them use the club.

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Contrary to Ritz-Carlton’s policies, Trump ownership rules bar members from the club once they announce their intentions to resign. Even though they can’t use the club, they are still billed $8,000 to $20,000 a year for dues and must pay an $1,800 annual fee for food and beverages. Because most have to wait until five new members join before their deposit will be refunded, those bills will continue to mount for years.

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Trump, then hot on the campaign trail, testified by videotape. His son, Eric, who oversees the club along with 17 others owned by The Trump Organization, claimed the members were just disgruntled and eventually would get their money back when new members joined.

From the archive: Bino commentary: Step aside, Judge Marra. It’s your turn to be an unsuitable Trump judge

In the statement, a spokesperson for the Trump Organization wrote: “We respectfully disagree with the Court’s decision.  The plaintiffs were all members under Ritz Carlton who resigned before Trump purchased the Club.  At the time Trump purchased the Club, it was suffering financially, making it unlikely that these members would ever get back their deposits.  At trial, we presented overwhelming evidence that the plaintiffs’ memberships were never recalled and that the plaintiffs had waived this argument during the course of the litigation.”

 

Read more Donald Trump coverage from The Post 

Check back for updates.

*Editor’s Note: This story was updated to reflect an amended judgment Marra issued to correct a mathematical error.

 

Boca attorney again asks court to declare Trump mentally unfit

A Boca Raton probate and guardianship lawyer has renewed his efforts to have Donald Trump declared mentally unfit to serve as president of the United States.

Donald Trump
New U.S. President Donald Trump

Attorney James Herb said Trump’s actions over the last 10 days – fighting over the size of the crowd at his inauguration, insisting he really won the popular vote and inciting international turmoil with an immigration ban – reinforce his earlier claims that part-time Palm Beach resident is delusional.

A similar guardianship petition Herb filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court in the run-up to the November election was thrown out by Circuit Judge Jaimie Goodman. As a state court judge, Goodman said he had no power to block Trump’s candidacy or remove him from office. Further, he ruled, Herb didn’t have a relationship with Trump that would allow him to ask that the real estate tycoon be declared incompetent.

Herb said he has addressed those legal obstacles in a new petition filed Monday. “I did not have a relationship with him but I now do because he’s my president,” Herb said.

Further, he said, he’s not asking a judge to remove Trump from office. That would be done in accordance with a process outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Herb said he is simply asking a judge to appoint a team of experts to evaluate the new chief executive’s mental health. If Trump is found incompetent by the three-person panel, the judge could then limit his activities.

In the petition, Herb is asking that Trump be barred from “seeking or retaining employment.” In an asterisks, he notes that he is asking Trump be prohibited from “retaining employment as President of the United States.” If a judge agrees to the limitation, the order would be forwarded to federal officials capable of removing him from office.

As he did in the previous petition, Herb claims Trump exhibits signs of narcissism and histrionic personality disorder. Both are recognized as mental illnesses by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since taking office, Trump has also exhibited signs of being delusional, Herb wrote.

Herb, who was criticized as a publicity-hound after filing the first petition in October, said his actions aren’t part of some self-serving publicity stunt. A longtime guardianship and probate lawyer, he said his practice is now primarily limited to wills and trusts.

“I’m not interested in getting business. I have plenty of business,” he said.

His goal, he said, is much more far-reaching. “I’m trying to save the world,” he said.

He is not alone in his suspicion that Trump is mentally unfit to be president. A group calling itself “We The People,” on Sunday started an online petition to “Demand Congress Require an Independent Expert Panel Determine the President’s Psychiatric Stability to Protect America.” If they get 99,999 signatures by Feb. 28, the White House by law has to respond.

 

Trump officially drops lawsuit against PBC over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago

Donald Trump has filed paperwork, confirming his plans to drop his $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“It’s officially over!” County Attorney Denise Nieman wrote county commissioners on Wednesday.

While the president-elect’s attorneys had called her on Monday, saying they no longer planned to pursue the nearly 2-year-old lawsuit, they didn’t file necessary court papers until Wednesday.

In a two-sentence notice, Trump’s attorneys John Marion and Bruce Rogow, a noted constitutional law expert, wrote that they were voluntarily dismissing the suit “with prejudice.” Neither the county nor Trump, they wrote, would seek court costs or attorneys fees in connection with the abandoned litigation.

It was the third lawsuit Trump filed against the county, claiming jets from Palm Beach International Airport were causing irreparable damage to the historic club, built in the 1920s by cereal heiress Margaret Merriweather Post and her then husband E.F. Hutton. The first lawsuit, filed in 1995, was settled and a second one was dismissed by a Palm Beach County circuit judge.

Airports Director Bruce Pelly said the county has spent more than $800,000 fighting Trump in court.

Trump officially drops lawsuit against PBC over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago

Donald Trump has filed paperwork, confirming his plans to drop his $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

“It’s officially over!” County Attorney Denise Nieman wrote county commissioners on Wednesday.

While the president-elect’s attorneys had called her on Monday, saying they no longer planned to pursue the nearly 2-year-old lawsuit, they didn’t file necessary court papers until Wednesday.

It was the third lawsuit Trump filed against the county, claiming jets from Palm Beach International Airport were causing irreparable damage to the historic club, built in the 1920s by cereal heiress Margaret Merriweather Post and her then husband E.F. Hutton. The first lawsuit, filed in 1995, was settled and a second one was dismissed by a Palm Beach County circuit judge.

Airports Director Bruce Pelly said the county has spent more than $800,000 fighting Trump in court.

PBC court race gets ugly – some say – in Donald Trump-like way

A Palm Beach County judicial candidate’s claim that her opponent’s legal chops are questionable because he represents “murderers, rapists, child molesters and other criminals” has inflamed criminal defense attorneys and raised concerns that Donald Trump tactics are being used in a county court race.

Gregg Lerman
Gregg Lerman

Comments Dana Santino made in an email last week about her opponent, Gregg Lerman, raise questions about her understanding of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that anyone charged with a crime has the right to have an attorney represent them, attorneys said.

In a statement on Sunday, the president of the Palm Beach Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers made it clear the group isn’t backing either candidate in the nonpartisan race.

Dana Santino
Dana Santino

“However, we do support the Constitution of the United States,” wrote Christine Geraghty, an assistant public defender.  “Every lawyer in Florida takes an oath to uphold the Constitution.  Anyone who believes that there is something wrong with a lawyer upholding the ethical duty we have to our clients, to the Constitution, and to the rules of the Florida Bar does not understand how the legal system is supposed to work.”

Santino, a Palm Beach Gardens probate and guardianship attorney who worked as an intern in both the public defender’s and state attorney’s offices while she was in law school, said she understands the system.

“I completely respect and I’m proud of our justice system and while every person is entitled to a defense, Mr. Lerman is not a public defender and chooses to represent individuals who commit heinous crimes,” she said in a statement.

Lerman, a criminal defense attorney, said Santino’s description of his clients indicates she doesn’t understand another important Constitutional concept: innocent until proven guilty.

Further, he said in most cases he is appointed by judges to represent poor people accused of murder. Court-appointed attorneys are needed when the public defender’s office is unable to do so either because it is already representing a co-defendant or its workload doesn’t allow it.

Without private attorneys willing to accept such cases, the system would collapse, said Val Rodriguez, a private attorney who handles both criminal and civil cases and is supporting Lerman. “He’s performing a public service,” he said.

He said he was “flabbergasted” by Santino’s comments. “It’s so elementary. That’s why it’s so shocking,” he said. “It’s the first thing you learn in law school – to treat all parties with respect. You don’t call people criminals, especially if you’re a judge.”

Santino and Lerman are vying for a seat on the county court bench where misdemeanor cases and civil matters where less than $15,000 is at stake are decided.

Rodriguez likened Santino’s comments to criticism Trump leveled at Hillary Clinton during last week’s debate. The GOP presidential candidate accused Clinton of getting a man accused of raping a 12-year-old off and then laughing at the victim.

Early in her career, Clinton was appointed to represent the man, who ultimately took a plea deal. But, fact-checkers at the Associated Press said there is no evidence Clinton laughed at the victim when interviewed about the case years later.

Rodriguez said Santino is trying to tar Lerman with the same ugly brush. “She’s riding the coattails of these crazy Trump supporters,” Rodriguez said of Santino.

Santino said she is simply underscoring the differences between herself and Lerman. “I have spent part of my career and much of my life helping and advocating for victims of rape, homicide and domestic violence,” she wrote. “Those are simply the facts.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Clinton worked as an assistant public defender. She didn’t. She was appointed to represent the man in the rape case.

 

Jupiter golf club trial ends with Eric Trump declaring: “We made it great again.”

Eric Trump, center, enters the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach Tuesday morning, August 16, 2016. Eric Trump, son of Donald Trump, is scheduled to testify in a trial accusing his father and him of pocketing $6 million in membership fees paid by members of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Eric Trump, center, enters the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach Tuesday morning, August 16, 2016. Eric Trump, son of Donald Trump, is scheduled to testify in a trial accusing his father and him of pocketing $6 million in membership fees paid by members of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Eric Trump, son of businessman-turned-Republican presidential candidate and part-time Palm Beacher Donald Trump, on Tuesday offered a full-throated defense of his father’s operation of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter and blasted members who are suing as short-sighted and disingenuous.

“We made it great again,” he testified, showing no signs he was intentionally cribbing his father’s most famous campaign line.

“The irony about this case is we came in and invested a tremendous amount of money,” Eric Trump told U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra, who will be deciding the estimated $6 million breach of contract case. Further, he said, there is no question those who filed suit will get their money back.

“It’s not if your clients are going to be paid out,” Trump said, referring to the three men who filed a class-action suit on behalf of roughly 60 members to get back initiation fees, ranging from $35,000 to $210,000. “It’s when your clients are going be paid out.”

Trump was the last witness to testify in the trial that began Monday. Marra gave attorneys 30 days to file additional written materials. Then, he said, it is likely he would call them back to ask additional questions.

Since purchasing the financially troubled club in December 2012 from Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa, the Trump Organization pumped $25 million into the club on Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A, he said. The improvements attracted more members which should have been welcome news to those who filed suit, Trump testified.

The more people join, the faster those on the resignation list move toward getting their money back. Under club rules, resigning members have to wait until new members join before they can get back their initiation fees. To protect the club, the rules require that about five members resign before a refund will be used to a former member. Sometimes the process can take years.

“The more people come in the faster, you accelerate the list,” Trump said. “There’s no question that over a period of time we’ve paid out a tremendous amount of people on the list.”.

Trump, who helps oversee 18 golf clubs his father’s company operates throughout the world, defended the Jupiter club’s policies that requires members who announced their intention of resigning to continue to pay between $6,000 and $20,000 annually in dues and $1,800 in food and beverage fees even though they are barred from using the club. Such policies are common at golf clubs, he said.

“It stabilizes cash flow but it also stabilizes operations for the entire facility,” he said. “Otherwise the choice would be to increase dues or decrease services for existing members.” That, he said, wouldn’t be fair.

But, under the Ritz-Carlton’s ownership, those who were on the resignation list were allowed to continue to use the club. That’s because the club, that was losing as much as $4.2 million annually, was desperate for cash, he said. Documents members signed make it clear they must continue to pay dues until a new member takes over their membership.

Attorney Bradley Edwards, who represents the members in the lawsuit, pointed out that Trump’s explanation of club policies have changed since he gave a deposition in April 2015. At that time, Trump insisted those on the resignation list were not denied entry unless they had outstanding bills.

” I have enough hubris to say I was wrong,” Trump said of his previous testimony.

A video deposition of Donald Trump was played in court yesterday, where he said the members of his Jupiter golf course who are s who suing him are just “angry people” he didn’t want in his club anyway.

» READ MORE from yesterday in court

 

» READ MORE about the trial

Donald Trump unlikely to testify in person at next week’s trial in West Palm Beach

Donald Trump is not expected to appear in person in federal court in West Palm Beach next week to refute allegations that he improperly kept as much as $6 million in refundable deposits from members when he took over a country club in Jupiter four years ago.

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida in March. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

In court papers filed late Monday, both Trump’s attorneys and those representing members of the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter both said depositions taken of the GOP presidential candidate would be read to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, who will be deciding the case.

While a jury trial was planned, Marra last month approved a request from both sides that he alone decide the dispute that has raged since Trump bought the club on Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A for $5 million from Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa.

While Marra rejected Trump’s request to throw out the lawsuit, attorneys representing the real-estate-tycoon-turned-reality-TV-star have asked the judge to reconsider that decision. In the alternative, Miami attorney Herman Joseph Russomanno III is asking Marra not to allow the case to proceed as a class-action lawsuit.

Members of the club claim that Trump breached contracts they had with the Ritz when he in 2012 took over the club that had been losing as much as $4.2 million a month under its prior owners.

Under Ritz-Carton’s rules, members could continue to pay dues and use the club even after announcing their intentions to resign. Once a new member signed up, however, their deposits, which ranged from $35,000 to $210,000, were to be refunded.

Once Trump took over, he wrote a letter, alerting those who announced their intentions to resign “you’re out.” Members say they were denied entry to the club. Trump attorneys said it was because they hadn’t paid their dues. Further, Trump attorneys said, members could get their deposits back once new members joined.

Eric Trump, who operates the club for his father, is also on the witness list for the trial that is to begin Monday. It is unclear whether he will testify in person or, like his father, will allow sworn statements he made in previous depositions to be used to explain his position.

The club was the site of a primary campaign event in March where Trump surrounded himself with various products that bear his name, such as Trump magazine, Trump Steaks and Trump water, to dispute allegations from GOP rivals that many of his products were failures. It is also where his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of manhandling an online news reporter. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg declined to file charges.

 

Judge paves way for trial against Donald Trump over Jupiter golf club take-over

Donald Trump is likely to be forced to take a break in his campaign for president next month to appear in federal court in West Palm Beach to explain why he hasn’t returned an estimated $6 million to members of his country club off Donald Ross Road.

Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump holds a copy of his magazine during a press conference at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida on March 8, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra this week paved the way for a trial to begin on August 15 by denying Trump’s request to throw out the lawsuit filed by those who were members of the club before the businessman-turned-TV-celebrity-turned-GOP-presidential-nominee bought it for $5 million in 2012.

In the 12-page ruling, Marra said there were “genuine questions of material fact regarding whether (Trump) breached the contract” with members of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter by refusing to return their deposits, which ranged from $35,000 to $210,000. That means, he said, the lawsuit must be decided by a jury.

Members claim that Trump changed the rules once he bought the club from the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa, which had been losing as much as $4.2 million annually trying to keep it afloat. Under the previous rules, members could continue to pay their dues and use the club even after announcing their intentions to resign. Once a new member signed up, however, their hefty deposits were to be refunded.

Shortly after taking over the ailing club in a gated community off Donald Ross Road near Alternate A1A, Trump announced to those on the resignation list: “you’re out.”

In a December 2012 letter to club members, he wrote, the rules had to be changed to assure the club became the “ultra-prestigious club” he envisioned.

Therefore,  he explained, “if a person is on the resignation list, the membership does not want them to be an active member of the club — likewise as the owner of the club, I do not want them to utilize the club nor do I want their dues.

“In other words,” he continued, “we are committed to seeing Trump National Golf Club – Jupiter on the list of the best clubs in the world and if you choose to remain on the resignation list, you’re out.”

Shortly after, members said they were barred from using the club. Further, they claim, club officials have refused to return their deposits as they were required to do under their membership contracts with the Ritz.

At a hearing in March, Trump attorneys argued that the disgruntled members were denied entry because they hadn’t paid their dues. Further, they argued, Trump offered them attractive options to remain members.

If they agreed to give up their deposits, their annual dues would drop to $17,500 for three years and they would also get the use of 14 other Trump clubs around the country, including Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach. Those who didn’t “opt-in” would see their annual dues jump to $21,500 and they wouldn’t get the chance to use other Trump facilities, according to the letter.

The options, those who filed suit claimed, constituted a breach of contract because it changed the terms of the long-standing agreement they had when they joined the club.

But, Trump attorneys countered, the club didn’t refuse to refund the deposits. Under another plan, longtime members would get their deposits back once new members signed up. Those who filed suit simply wanted to jump to the front of a very long line, they argued.

Marra said there is a true difference of opinion regarding the new rules. The disagreement turns on various details, such as the definition of such terms as “recall of the membership,” he wrote. That, he said, will be up to a jury to decide.