NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge, saying President Donald Trump has used his “position and platform” in unprecedented fashion to affect court cases, temporarily agreed Thursday to protect the identities of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit because they fear retaliation by the president or his followers.
U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield ruled in a case involving people who lost money in a marketing company Trump endorsed in speeches and on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
She said their identities can remain secret at least while lawyers for Trump, his business and his three eldest children seek to dismiss the case in its early stages.
In court papers, attorneys for the plaintiffs said releasing their identities would expose them to “crushing mental, economic and professional harm.”
The lawyers are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, saying victims lost at least $500 while some lost thousands of dollars.
Attorney David Spears, representing Trump, his company and his children, argued against anonymity, saying he’d want to ensure plaintiffs had not had dealings with the defendants in the past and had no presence on social media that would show bias.
In court papers, defense lawyers said the president has not commented publicly on the lawsuit and the plaintiffs “grossly exaggerate” its importance.
Attorney Roberta Ann Kaplan told Schofield that attorneys do not want the names released “in a way that these very marginalized, quite poor people face threats, face doxing, face things that unfortunately today happen.”
Schofield said she was protecting the identities of the plaintiffs for now. They include a mother of three who works at a large retail store, a hospice worker and a delivery food driver.
“The fact that a particular defendant hasn’t yet commented publicly doesn’t mean that that won’t happen in the future,” she said. “The manner in which the president has used his position and platform to affect the course of pending court cases, as Ms. Kaplan said, is really without precedent.”
She added: “Whether instigated by him or by his supporters, the harms at issue here are not hypothetical. They are real, significant and present an unwarranted obstacle to those who would seek to vindicate their rights in federal court.”
After the hearing, a lawyer for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
In the October lawsuit, plaintiffs in Manhattan federal court sought unspecified damages from Trump, the Trump Company, which is a unit of the Trump Organization, and the president’s three oldest children.
According to the lawsuit, Trump received millions of dollars in exchange for reassuring potential salespeople for telephone company ACN there was little risk if they paid fees and incurred other expenses to start selling its phone service to others.
The lawsuit, which alleged Trump violate federal anti-racketeering laws, said Trump falsely reassured them he had done extensive due-diligence on the company and all was well, though he knew they had little chance to recoup their fees.
Trump also gave at least three speeches at ACN events, earning $1.35 million in fees, according to figures at the Federal Election Commission.
On an episode of “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2011, Trump said he knew ACN “very well” and, in a video ad, said he had done “a lot of research” to gain insight into how it has “stayed ahead of the pack.”