Trump’s attorneys fire back at former members of Jupiter golf club

President Donald Trump’s massive real estate empire struck back at 65 former members of its Jupiter country club on Monday, insisting a federal judge erred in February when he ordered the company to repay the members $5.8 million for improperly keeping their deposits.

In an appeal filed with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Trump’s attorneys quote liberally from a December 2012 letter the real estate mogul wrote members shortly after he bought the club on Donald Ross Road from Ritz-Carlton and renamed it Trump National Golf Club Jupiter.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: President Donald Trump and Palm Beach

Claiming those who had announced their intentions to resign from the club should no longer be able to use it, the famously blunt Trump told them: “You’re out.”

However, contrary to January’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, attorneys representing the club claim Trump’s plain-spoken explanation of the new rules of his regime didn’t mean he breached the contract members signed with Ritz-Carlton.

Noted South Florida constitutional lawyer Bruce Rogow, who is representing The Trump Organization in the appeal, admitted that the 65 members shouldn’t have been forced to pay as much as $20,000 in annual dues for a club they were no longer allowed to use. But, he insisted, Marra’s ruling allows the members to “game” the system.

According to the rules, once on the resignation list, members had to wait until at least four new members joined before getting back initiation fees, which ranged from $35,000 to $210,000. As Trump’s attorneys unsuccessfully argued during last year’s week-long trial, Rogow said the 65 members were unfairly trying to jump to the front of the line of those waiting for refunds.

Rather than allowing them to do so, Rogow said Marra should have simply said: “Assume your place on the refund list and wait your turn. Pay no heed to the dues, for you have resigned, and the Club, by your own desire, is a place of your past.”

He acknowledged that those who had paid annual dues, while being barred from the club, should have been entitled to refunds.

Quoting Trump’s son Eric, who ran the Jupiter club at the time and was placed at the helm of The Trump Organization after his father’s election, Rogow said the members would get their deposits back in due time.

» ARCHIVE: Jupiter golf club trial ends with Eric Trump declaring: ‘We made it great again’

“You know, I want there to be no doubt in this courtroom, the refundability,” Eric Trump testified during the trial. “You know, we agreed to absolutely honor that refundability, and we pay out refundability all the time as they come due. … There is no ambiguity to that point.”

But, members who filed the lawsuit argued, there was plenty of ambiguity after Trump purchased the financially troubled club for $5 million. One of the reasons Trump got the club in a gated community near Alternative A1A for such a bargain price was that he agreed to assume responsibility for an estimated $41 million in refundable deposits.

In an effort to reduce his liability, Trump offered members a deal: If they agreed to forgo their deposits, he would reduce their dues by 10 percent for three years and give them access to Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach and Trump National in Doral, near Miami. Those who refused to give up their deposits, would see a 20 percent hike in their annual dues.

Norman Hirsch, a North Palm Beach computer engineer who helped lead the lawsuit with Boston real estate investor Matthew Dwyer, said under Ritz-Carlton’s rules members who continued to pay dues were allowed to continue to use the club after they had resigned. Both said they were inflamed when Trump continued to bill them for dues even though he locked them out of the club.

“When you find you’re being charged to use a club when you can’t even get into a club, you feel you’ve been wronged. It’s a no-brainer,” Hirsch said of what prompted the lawsuit.

In his decision, Marra said that by banning resigned members from the club, Trump revoked their memberships. According to the contract, refunds had to be made within 30 days to those whose memberships had been revoked or recalled, he ruled.

Rogow claims Marra misinterpreted the contract by redefining key words of it. “There can be no recall, revocation, cancellation where there has been a resignation,” he wrote. “One cannot recall, revoke or cancel that which no longer is extant.”

Continuing on that theme, he insisted: “The resigned members were not ‘Waiting for Godot.’”

“Having signed the notices of resignation, they were gone. All that was left for them was to wait until their refund list numbers came up,” he wrote.

Even before Marra’s decision, the club soared onto the national stage when it was the site of a March 2016 victory party for Trump, then a Republican presidential hopeful. A reporter for the Breitbart News website accused then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of manhandling her. Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg declined to file charges against him.

Attorneys for the former members of the golf club will have a chance to respond to Rogow’s claims. Then, it is likely oral arguments will be scheduled. The appeal will take months, possibly a year, to resolve.

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