A victory for Trump? Not so fast

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Story highlights

  • Paul Callan: Judge Curiel, who Trump had called "Mexican," has barred release of video deposition in Trump University case
  • A victory for Trump? While fair, ruling will expose Trump to a public trial, which could prove fatal to case, candidacy, he says

Paul Callan is a CNN legal analyst and a former media law professor. He is a former New York homicide prosecutor and criminal defense attorney who serves as "of counsel" to Edelman & Edelman, PC and is senior trial counsel at CallanLegal, where he focuses on civil rights and wrongful conviction litigation. Follow him on Twitter: @paulcallan The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Donald Trump's seasoned trial counsel, Daniel Petrocelli (he was counsel to the Goldman family in the O.J. Simpson civil case) must have had a sleepless night when he heard his client had denounced the Indiana born federal judge overseeing the trial in the Trump University fraud case as unfit to hear the case because he was a biased "Mexican."

As all experienced litigators know, if you want to win a case, don't make an enemy of the trial judge, particularly if we're talking federal trial judges, who are frequently smart, egotistical and appointed for life by no less a mortal than the president of the United States. In the case of Trump University trial Judge Gonzalo Curiel, President Barack Obama made the appointment.
Federal judges have the smarts and the power to torpedo any litigant's case in a variety of perfectly legal and often subtle ways.
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    And Curiel has demonstrated those smarts, as well as a sound judicial temperament, in his deft handling of the San Diego Trump University class action lawsuit during this years' nasty presidential race.
    On Tuesday afternoon the judge ruled in favor of Trump's attorneys in prohibiting the release of Trump's videotaped deposition in the case. This was, at first blush, an enormous victory for Trump, as videotaped depositions are often unflattering to the witness being filmed.
    Unlike TV studio and even political rally appearances, at a videotaped deposition, the lighting is bad -- usually law-office fluorescent -- and the questions are asked by aggressive lawyers seeking to trip up the witness in a lawyer-controlled atmosphere.
    There is no makeup department at most law firms. So, picture orange hair and fluorescent light bouncing off the brightly lit, possibly sweating face of the probably makeup-free candidate as he responds to questions he considers to be dangerous and obnoxious.
    A videotaped Trump deposition could well provide a rich source of possibly out-of-context clips —valuable fodder for the Hillary Clinton campaign to feature in TV commercials depicting Trump at his videotaped worst.
    Curiel could easily have ruled in favor of the defense releasing the deposition video on the grounds that an open and transparent proceeding was essential, as Trump had challenged the fairness of a federal court run by a "Mexican," going for the easy "video shot" at Trump.
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    Instead, appearing to be extraordinarily fair under the circumstances, the judge ruled against an early release of the Trump video, delivering what may eventually be a more painful and ultimately fatal blow. He refused to dismiss the case, ordering a full trial of all the remaining claims against Trump.
    He found that there is sufficient evidence already revealed in the discovery process, which, if believed by the jury, would establish that Trump's so-called university was a fraudulent scam used to bilk the many students, some of whom paid as much as $35,000 because they believed in the real estate magnate and his message.
    While most class actions are either dismissed or settled before trial, the judge appears to have been well within his discretion and authority to let a jury of Southern California citizens decide the case. In addition to more months of bad publicity, the case may also result in a multimillion-dollar verdict against Trump.
    The last U.S. census in San Diego, by the way, reveals a population of approximately 40% of Latinos and African-Americans in that jurisdiction. Jury selection promises to be really interesting.
    Trump may be reminded in the future of yet another famous proverb as the case lingers on through the end of his campaign, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." I'm betting the dish is occasionally served in Indiana, too, where the weather often turns frigid. Trump just got his first taste.