Sherri Simpson. (Credit: Not Who We Are via YouTube)
An objector challenging the $25 million Trump University settlement is a Florida lawyer who previously told her story in political ads opposing Donald Trump.
Sherri Simpson, a personal bankruptcy lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, filed an objection on Monday claiming the settlement, reached just after Trump was elected, doesn’t allow an estimated 7,000 class members to opt out of the deal even though a 2015 class notice said that it would.
“That’s the language. This isn’t my interpretation, not my spin, that’s the language,” said New York plaintiffs attorney Gary Friedman, who represents Simpson.
Friedman is asking U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego to reject the settlement unless class members get a second chance to opt out.
Most class action settlements allow individuals to opt out of the deal just prior to final approval. In the objection filing, Friedman says that by not offering an opportunity to opt out, the settlement violates his client’s due process rights and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Lead plaintiffs attorney Patrick Coughlin of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd accused Simpson of being “politically motivated.” Simpson, who paid $19,000 for the “Gold Elite” course and another program offered by Trump University, appeared in several political advertisements against Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
“It’s certainly not in the interest of the case to delay distributions of the class members,” Coughlin said.
Friedman insisted his client is not a political person. “She was angry, had been screwed out of money she could ill afford to lose, had been duped by this famous person who’s prancing around, and she wanted full vindication,” he said.
Reached by email, Simpson said: “I have always said I was telling my story about my experience with Donald Trump which was not a positive one. I did so through the forums presented to me.”
Trump’s lead attorney, O’Melveny & Myers partner Daniel Petrocelli, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The lawyer championing Simpson’s objection has a blotted past. In 2015, a federal judge in Brooklyn rejected a proposed settlement in an antitrust case against American Express Co. after finding that Friedman, the plaintiffs attorney, had engaged in “egregious” conduct by secretly communicating with a defense attorney in a similar case and sharing documents that were under a protective order. The judge removed Friedman from the case.
The communications were discovered as federal prosecutors in New Jersey investigated the defense attorney, Keila Ravelo, formerly with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, and her husband, for a theft scheme that used fake invoices to solicit payments of $7.8 million from Willkie, her former firm, Hunton & Williams, and her client, MasterCard. Ravelo, who was charged in 2014, is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
Friedman has paired up with Andrew Celli and Ilann Maazel of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, a civil rights shop in New York. Celli was chief of the civil rights bureau in the New York Attorney General’s office from 1999 to 2003, and Maazel obtained dismissal of a $45 million lawsuit brought by Trump in a Tel Aviv real estate dispute. (Maazel writes a civil rights litigation column for the New York Law Journal.)
The team also includes Edward Zusman and Kevin Eng, partners at Markun Zusman Freniere Compton, a San Francisco business litigation firm.
Friedman called the team “real trial lawyers” and “some of the best out there.”
The $25 million settlement resolved claims that Trump University falsely promised that Trump himself had hand-picked the instructors and that the program was an “accredited university.”
Plaintiffs attorneys, including Coughlin’s firm, have agreed to waive legal fees as part of the settlement. Final approval of the settlement is set for March 30.