Trump lawsuit against celebrity chef heads to trial

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump is not relenting in his lawsuit against celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian over a scrapped restaurant at his Washington hotel, even if it means going to trial as the 45th United States President.

A judge on Tuesday scheduled a pre-trial hearing for May 17 after a lawyer for Mr Trump, Ms Rebecca Woods, said settlement talks were at an "impasse".

A trial could be scheduled within six months of that date. The real estate developer-turned-Presidentelect is seeking about US$14 million (S$20.3 million) in damages.

The case is one of two lawsuits Mr Trump filed in August 2015 against restaurateurs who abandoned plans to establish eateries in the 263-room Trump International Hotel, which opened last October.

The Trump Organization invested US$212 million in the hotel, housed in the city's historic old post office, just blocks from the White House.

Chefs Zakarian and Jose Andres both cancelled planned restaurants there after Mr Trump kicked off his presidential run by calling Mexicans "rapists". The deportation of undocumented immigrants and construction of a US-Mexico border wall were centrepieces of his campaign.

"They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems to us," the billionaire said of the Mexican government during the June 2015 announcement of his candidacy, said a District of Columbia Superior Court filing citing that speech.

"They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

Those comments prompted several businesses to cut ties with him, including the biggest US department store chain Macy's, Spanishlanguage broadcaster Univision Communications and chef Andres' Think Food Group.

Chef Zakarian's lawyer, Ms Deborah Baum, declined to comment on Tuesday on the pre-trial schedule. Ms Woods also declined to comment after the hearing.

Chef Andres is fighting the President-elect's US$10-million lawsuit with his own countersuit.

He is seeking at least US$8 million in damages for money spent on developing his restaurant location at the hotel before being compelled to withdraw. Mr Trump is scheduled to be questioned under oath in that case later this week.

In November, Mr Trump agreed to pay US$25 million to settle claims that his defunct Trump University cheated more than 6,000 students with false promises of teaching them his real estate secrets.

Last month, lawyers for Trump International Hotel Las Vegas told a US appeals court it had resolved issues that led to a National Labor Relations Board determination it had violated federal law by refusing to bargain with a union.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Trump lawsuit against celebrity chef heads to trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe