Shaw Friedman: Donald Trump, Judge Curiel and Hoosier lawyers
Saturday, June 04, 2016 10:20 AM
LaPORTE, Ind. – The notion that this hopeless narcissist and racist, Donald Trump, has just captured the nomination of his beloved Republican Party would certainly cause the consummate modest gentleman and country doctor – Doc Bowen – to roll over in his grave.
Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel is an East Chicago native and a graduate of the Indiana University Law School.
For many of us Democrats growing up in Indiana, kindly Doc Bowen represented a gentle and courtly manner of Republicanism who, while having political beliefs different than our own, treated friend and foe alike with respect and civility.
The same can be said for the one of the greatest living statesmen of our time, Richard Lugar, who always practiced courtesy and respect to those who differed with him and became the model of diplomacy both in the U.S. Senate and in international circles. I confess to some bias about the former senator as he’s still the greatest living member of my fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, and a world-respected model of cordiality and of respect for the law and our democratic processes.
Contrast that with the pathetic spectacle we’ve seen in just the last few days as Donald Trump has chosen to hit a new low with his attacks on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel of Southern California. Just when you’re confident that Trump has sunk as low as he can go, he chose in a fit of uncontained fury to attack the judge hearing one of the class action cases alleging fraud by the now-defunct Trump University.
As part of Trump’s “grudge” tour after claiming the nomination, he took an astounding 12 minutes of his campaign speech last Friday to demand that Judge Curiel recuse himself because he was a “hater” and “very hostile” to Trump and should “be ashamed of himself. ” Trump complained about “getting railroaded” by a “rigged” legal system while mentioning Curiel was nominated by President Obama. He conveniently neglected the fact that Curiel’s nomination was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate on Sept. 22, 2012, on a voice vote with not a single Republican voting in opposition.
Trump then went on to slam the judge as “Mexican” seeking to elicit whoops and hollers from his crowd as if attacking yet another immigrant. Again, Trump’s pathetic habit of lying about opponents and anyone he perceives as hostile or critical of him was in plain view yet again. As has been written by our publisher, Judge Curiel is not from Mexico, but is a native Hoosier, having been born in East Chicago, Ind., before attending and graduating I.U. Law School.
This disgusting excuse for a national candidate utterly refused to acknowledge that when Curiel moved to California, he served as a distinguished assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California and was so intimately involved in drug prosecutions that he was actually a target of drug cartel death squads for having sought to extradite two drug kingpins from Mexico. Curiel was so highly thought of for his work with the U.S. attorney’s office that he was appointed to a California Superior Court vacancy by then Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Raising Curiel’s status as a Mexican-American and trying to point to his ethnicity as a means to debase this honored son of Indiana is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I cannot believe that my fellow Hoosier lawyers of whatever political stripe can abide this debasement of our profession and of the judiciary by this reckless demagogue. We all take an oath to “maintain the respect due to courts of justice and judicial officers” and I would hope that even the most rabidly partisan Republican colleague of mine in the bar would think twice before endorsing or backing Trump or ever voting for him.
Even though Judge Curiel has apparently ruled Trump’s way on various motions in the case, including granting the request by Trump’s lawyers to postpone the trial until after the election, that’s not good enough for Trump. It wasn’t enough to simply take exception to the judge’s latest ruling, but to attempt to smear the judge and accuse him of bias for having released the documents showing just what a consummate fraud Trump University really was.
Fortunately, even conservative lawyers like Josh Blackman, who transcribed Trump’s remarks about Curiel at Friday’s rally, have taken him to task saying “his jaw-dropping comments reflect an utter ignorance about what judges do and amounts to dangerous attacks on the fairness of our court system.” David Post, an adjunct at the conservative Cato Institute, wrote that Trump’s rant “is truly appalling and given that this guy could become president, terrifying.”
I’m hopeful that Republican lawyers in Indiana including those who serve in the Indiana legislature will also challenge this outrageous conduct and think twice about giving their endorsement to Trump. As David Post put so well in his column, “Our form of government will not work if the executive branch does not respect the legitimacy of decisions made by the judicial branch.”
Hoosier lawyers should echo the sentiments of Prof. Charles Geyh, a legal ethics expert at IU Law School who said very clearly to Reuters that Trump’s behavior could earn him “sanction for indirect criminal contempt of court. He has impugned the honesty of a judge in a pending case and has done so in the context of a political rally that seems calculated to intimidate by inciting anger among his supporters.”
Certainly, there’s a line that cannot be crossed and Hoosier lawyers – of all political stripes – must know that Trump has now crossed that line.
Shaw R. Friedman is former legal counsel for the Indiana Democratic Party and a longtime HPI columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org