U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has said he wanted a trial by the middle of this year in a federal class-action lawsuit against Donald Trump by students of Trump University who say they were defrauded. The incident occurred before the real estate mogul appeared headed for the Republican presidential nomination.

The judge is expected to address timing at a final pre-trial conference today in San Diego. Trump’s lawyers, who have put the candidate on a list of witnesses who they may testify, have signalled opposition to a trial while Trump is in the race.

“This will be a zoo if it were to go to trial,” Trump lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said at a hearing in March.

The case is one of three lawsuits that accuse Trump University of fleecing students with unfilled promises to teach secrets of success in real estate at seminars that cost up to $35,000.

The San Diego lawsuit says Trump University, which no longer operates and wasn’t accredited as a school, gave seminars and classes across the country that were like infomercials, constantly pressuring students to buy more, and in the end, failing to deliver.

In the depositions, which took place in December and January, Trump acknowledged that he had never met the instructors whom his marketing described as “hand-picked”, and that some unqualified candidates had “slipped through the cracks”.

One instructor was a convicted felon, and others had no real estate experience.

“He, he defrauded us. Okay?” Trump said after seeing one former instructor’s declaration that he knew little about real estate. “Sue him.”

Trump said he did no quality control of the material for the real estate investment seminars, leaving that to a man with no experience regarding property investment. After learning that New York State regulators had warned the University that it could not advertise itself as an educational institution, Trump said he never followed up.

“I remember hearing about the issue, but I thought that it was all worked out. Unfortunately, maybe it wasn’t,” he said.

Trump University continued to market itself as a university for five more years.

The Presidential candidate has repeatedly pointed to a 98 percent satisfaction rate on internal surveys. But the lawsuit says students were asked to rate the product when they believed they still had more instruction to come and were reluctant to openly criticize their teachers on surveys that were not anonymous.

Curiel has been eager to get the six-year-old case to trial, suggesting August at a hearing late last year. He appeared to have second thoughts by March as Trump surged in the primaries.

Jason Forge, an attorney for the plaintiffs, suggested at the March hearing that a trial be scheduled in June but appeared open to another date.

“I would be foolish to even pretend to know how a case like this should be handled at this point because it really is an unprecedented level of publicity,” Forge said.

Associated Press

Image via AP Images.

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