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Judge Rejects Bid To Toss Trump University Lawsuit

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Friday tentatively rejected Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit by Trump University students who said they were defrauded through its real-estate seminars.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in San Diego told a hearing he would take under consideration arguments on both sides in the case and issue a written ruling in the coming weeks.

The 2013 lawsuit, one of three over the defunct Trump University venture, was filed on behalf of students who paid up to $35,000 to learn Trump’s real estate investing “secrets” from his “hand-picked” instructors. The plaintiffs have sought class-action status.

The cases against Trump University have regularly cropped up during the presidential campaign. Trump was roundly criticized in May when he accused Curiel, who is of Mexican descent, of being biased against him because of the candidate’s pledge to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Curiel, who was born in Indiana, is presiding over two of the cases, with one set for trial in late November. A separate lawsuit by New York’s attorney general is pending in that state.

Trump’s lawyers say Curiel should toss the 2013 California lawsuit on the grounds that the New York real estate mogul, though personally involved in developing the concept and curriculum, relied on other executives to manage Trump University by the time the plaintiffs purchased their seminars.

“By 2007, his involvement was fairly minimal. He was not the person running this company. He founded it, he established it and he went off and let other people run it. It’s like any other celebrity endorsement,” Trump attorney Daniel Petrocelli said during the hearing.

Trump’s lawyers claim references in marketing materials to “secrets,” “hand-picked” instructors or “university” were mere sales “puffery.” According to the defense, there is no evidence Trump intended to defraud students.

Lawyers for the students say the wealthy developer conducted the marketing for Trump University more than anyone else, starring in and approving promotional materials.

They claim Trump University instructors were high-pressure sales people, not “professors and adjunct professors” as Trump touted, and that New York authorities told Trump back in 2005 to stop calling his unaccredited venture a university.

“Somehow, belligerence trumps substance,” plaintiff’s attorney Jason Forge said. “If we say it loud enough, forcefully enough, it becomes true. Well, it doesn’t.”

Trump owned 92 percent of Trump University and had control over all major decisions, plaintiffs’ court papers say.

 

(Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Tom Brown and Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump formally accepts the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. July 21, 2016.     REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Embattled SeaWorld To Stop Breeding Killer Whales

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – SeaWorld said on Thursday it will stop breeding killer whales in captivity, bowing to years of pressure from animal rights activists, but the orcas already at its three parks will continue performing as they live out their remaining years.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc’s decision came after it pledged in November to replace its signature “Shamu” killer whale shows in San Diego with modified presentations of the animals that focused on conservation.

“We don’t need all these theatrical ‘tricks,’” SeaWorld President Joel Manby said on a conference call with reporters. Manby said the parks will use birth control to halt reproduction among its killer whales, also known as orcas.

SeaWorld, which operates marine parks in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio, has a total of 29 killers whales, including six on loan to a park in Spain. Five of them were captured in the wild, but it has not caught orcas at sea for almost 40 years.

The parks have been criticized for their treatment of the captive marine mammals, with some activists seeking an end to public exhibition of killer whales altogether.

The criticism intensified after three orcas died at SeaWorld San Antonio within a six-month span in 2015. In a statement responding to the deaths, the company said: “We have the highest standard of care for all animals at our parks.”

The life span of a killer whale in the wild is typically 30 years for males and 50 for females, with some females living as long as 100 years, according to the website of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. SeaWorld’s oldest killer whale, Corky, is a 51-year-old female.

SeaWorld, whose shares rose 8.2 percent on Thursday, also said it will scrap plans for a $100 million project called “Blue World” to enlarge its 7-million-gallon orca habitat at SeaWorld San Diego.

Some activists have called for SeaWorld to release its orcas into coastal sanctuaries, but the company says whales born or raised in captivity would likely die in the wild.

SeaWorld faced mounting criticism after the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which depicted the captivity and public exhibition of killer whales as inherently cruel.

“The fact that SeaWorld is doing away with orca breeding marks truly meaningful change,” said Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of “Blackfish.”

Animal rights group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals said SeaWorld had taken a step forward but renewed a call for the company to link its tanks to ocean sanctuaries.

Under the new plan the orcas will still be shown to visitors at set times, but viewing areas will be reconfigured to “reflect the natural world” with a program focusing on “orca enrichment, exercise and overall health,” according to the SeaWorld website.

SeaWorld also said it will partner with the Humane Society of the United States and had set aside $50 million to push for an end to commercial whaling and seal hunting as well as the killing of sharks for their fins over the next five years.

 

(Additional reporting by Ramkumar Iyer in Bengaluru, Barbara Liston in Orlando and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Ted Kerr, Sara Catania and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Photo: Young children get a close-up view of an Orca killer whale during a visit to the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California, in this file photo taken March 19, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files