iLocal News Archives

Trump’s testimony in decade-old NJ case draws interest anew

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011.  Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

By Charles Toutant, New Jersey Law Journal


With Donald Trump’s finances becoming a contested issue in the presidential race, a 2006 libel suit he filed in New Jersey is getting renewed attention in political circles.

Speculation about Trump’s net worth has been fueled by his presidential campaign’s refusal to release his tax returns. Now, the real estate mogul’s testimony in the suit in Camden County Superior Court is getting frequent mentions in the media as evidence that he has a history of misstating his net worth.

Trump sued Tim O’Brien, the author of a book called “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” over its estimate that Trump’s net worth was $250 million, whereas Trump has represented himself as a billionaire. Superior Court Judge Michele Fox made no findings with regard to Trump’s wealth when she dismissed the suit on summary judgment in July 2009. Trump appealed, but the dismissal was affirmed at the Appellate Division in September 2011.

Still, some remarks Trump made in a deposition in that case are coming back to haunt him.

Asked in a 2007 deposition by Andrew Ceresney, who represented O’Brien and his publisher, Time Warner Book Group, if he had ever been less than truthful about his net worth, Trump replied, “My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try.”

Ceresney then asked, “You said that the net worth goes up and down based upon your own feelings?”

Trump replied, “Yes, even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day. Then you have a September 11th, and you don’t feel so good about yourself and you don’t feel so good about the world and you don’t feel so good about New York City. Then you have a year later, and the city is as hot as a pistol. Even months after that it was a different feeling. So yeah, even my own feelings affect my value to myself.”

Ceresney then asked, “When you publicly state what you’re worth, what do you base that number on?”

Trump responded, “I would say it’s my general attitude at the time that the question may be asked. As I say, it varies.”

Recently unearthed by blogs and other media, the deposition transcript is prompting criticism of Trump’s ability to put a reliable price tag on his own holdings. A recent Fortune article said, “The case produced what may be the only official record, with probing questions, of Trump detailing how he calculates his net worth and values his properties—something that voters should have a keen interest in these days.”

“The deposition occupied two days, and the transcript runs 740 pages,” the Fortune article said. “Throughout, Trump revealed a kind of vague, ethereal perspective on real estate, where the numbers normally used to establish market value—such as discounted stream of future rents—are less important than Trump’s own gut feel for what his holdings are worth.”

Fortune went on to say that “Trump regularly assigns a gigantic range of possible values to properties that should be pretty straightforward to appraise, and chooses the values that are the highest, and that the actual numbers may not support. If as Warren Buffett says, accounting is the language of business, The Donald seems to have come up with his own personal dialect.”

“TrumpNation,” citing three anonymous sources, said Trump’s wealth comes largely from his inheritance and that his fortune amounted to between $200 million and $300 million. The author also cited various conversations he had with Trump, in which Trump put his fortune at between $4 billion and $6 billion.

Fox, the motion judge, applied an actual malice standard after concluding that Trump is a public figure. Trump claimed in the suit that O’Brien made derogatory comments about him in the book and during his book tour, providing evidence of actual malice. But the defendants asserted that O’Brien had valid reasons for disbelieving Trump’s explanation of his own net worth, based on what they said were his varying and inconsistent statements on the subject.

Fox found no evidence to support the notion that “allegations concerning O’Brien’s investigation or his alleged failure to cite or credit information favorable to Trump concerning Trump’s net worth rises to the level of actual malice sufficient to withstand summary judgment.”

On appeal, a three-judge panel found “no triable issue as to the existence of actual malice.”

Meanwhile, accounts differ about why the case was filed in Camden in the first place—Trump’s trial lawyer, William Tambussi, said he filed it in his home county after Trump retained him because of his success in turning back a previous libel suit there. But New York magazine reported that the case landed in Camden because George Norcross II boasted to Trump of his influence among local officials.

Trump said in a statement about the case, “O’Brien knows nothing about me. His book was a total failure. I haven’t even heard his name in over a decade, but ultimately I had great success doing what I wanted to do—costing this third-rate reporter a lot of legal fees.”

O’Brien also did not respond to a request for comment.

IMAGE:Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 10, 2011. Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

For more on this story go to:


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *