Trump Says Judge Presiding Over Civil Lawsuits Has 'Inherent Conflict of Interest' Because of Mexican Heritage

Donald Trump Thursday intensified his attacks against the federal judge presiding over a pair of lawsuits against Trump University, the now-defunct real estate school accused of defrauding students out of thousands of dollars.

In interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has an “inherent conflict of interest,” adding that his Mexican heritage puts the judge at odds with the Republican nominee’s immigration policy.

"I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest," Trump said, adding that the judge is a member of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association (which Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson mistakenly identified as National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group that organizes protests against the Republican nominee) and should therefore recuse himself from the case.

Curiel’s parents emigrated to America from Mexico, but the presiding judge was born in Indiana and is an American citizen. He was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2011 after serving five years on the Superior Court of San Diego.

Curiel now presides over two civil cases against Trump University. Former students allege the school convinced them to pay tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for top-of-the-line real estate advice from Trump’s closest confidants. Testimony in one of those cases revealed that former Trump University sales manager Ronald Schnackenberg considered the school “a fraudulent scheme” that “preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.”

This isn’t the first time Trump has attacked Curiel. He previously called the judge “biased” and a “hater.” At a rally in San Diego last week, Trump said of Curiel:

The trial is going to take place sometime in November. There should be no trial. This should have been dismissed on summary judgment easily. Everybody says it, but I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel.

Trump later added someone “ought to look into Judge Curiel, because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace,” and hinted at possible retaliation should he become president. “But we will come back in November,” Trump said. “Wouldn’t that be wild if I am president and come back and do a civil case? Where everybody likes it. Okay. This is called life, folks.”

Last Friday, Curiel ordered the release of Trump University “playbooks,” which described how the for-profit institution operated, citing Trump’s presidential campaign and his criticism of the court as reasons to release the documents. The judge also noted most of the documents are already available online.

"Defendant became the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential race, and has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue," Curiel wrote in an order unsealing the documents.

Trump’s attacks befuddle experts, including Luis Osuna, director of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association.

“Every time there is a comment like this, it is disheartening,” Osuna said. “It is not, unfortunately, surprising, given the source of the comments. But it displays a complete lack of understanding of the role that we have as attorneys and judges and the role that we have in upholding the Constitution.”


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