BASF Issues Statement Regarding Donald Trump’s Comments About Judge Curiel

Judge Gonzalo Curiel, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California

Judge Gonzalo Curiel, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California

The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF), along with a number of its past presidents, released an op-ed in support of independence of the judiciary in response to Donald Trump’s statements that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is handling class actions against Trump University, has “an absolute conflict” in presiding over these actions and is a “total disgrace.”

In issuing an op-ed, BASF and some of its past presidents stated,

“Mr. Trump bases this on Judge Curiel’s ‘Mexican heritage,’ by which he apparently means that Judge Curiel’s parents were Mexican immigrants (Judge Curiel was born in Indiana) and that the judge is a member of a Latino lawyers’ association—while Trump proposes a wall to seal the border with Mexico. If Trump’s view about judicial conflicts is right, any party dissatisfied with a judge’s rulings could get rid of the judge by saying something about the judge’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation.

This so-called ‘absolute conflict’ is not a conflict of interest at all under the U.S. judicial system. It is based upon the misguided belief that the race/ethnicity of a judge determines his or her ability to be impartial in a particular case. Specifically, the statement assumes that Judge Curiel’s having parents who were Mexican immigrants disqualifies him in cases involving any party who might take positions that the Mexican government opposes. In fact, Judge Curiel was first appointed by a Republican governor as a state judge, prior to being nominated by a Democratic president and confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate based precisely on the conclusion that he was qualified, impartial, and would apply the law faithfully.

The suggestion that a judge’s past participation in a minority bar group is disqualifying, would effectively prevent any lawyer with judicial aspirations from freely associating with other lawyers. The proof that these organizations actually promote good judging is reflected in the number of senior jurists who have participated in educational, pro bono, and other community service programs through those organizations prior to being appointed. Applying the Trump criteria that membership in La Raza was disqualifying in cases involving litigants who have taken controversial positions about immigration, would have deprived the bench of many of the nation’s most respected jurists.

Most concerning, Trump suggested that as president he would pursue personal vendettas against members of a separate branch of government. Specifically, ‘They ought to look into Judge Curiel, because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. Okay? But we will come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I am president and come back and do a civil case?’ The founders established an independent judiciary to protect the courts from this sort of intimidation by representatives of the other branches.”

Out of respect for the independence of the judiciary, The Bar Association of San Francisco calls on Donald Trump to withdraw his statements calling into question Judge Curiel’s fitness to serve as a judge in this case based on his ethnic heritage.

Yolanda Jackson, Executive Director & General Counsel
Merri Baldwin, President-Elect
Malcom Heinicke, Treasurer, The BASF
Doris Cheng, Secretary
Michael Traynor, President 1973
e. bob wallach, President 1975
James J. Brosnahan, President 1977
Frank Farella, President 1978
Stanley Friedman, President 1982
Jerome B. Falk, Jr., President 1985
David M. Balabanian, President 1986
Edward Kallgren, President 1988
Michael G.W. Lee, President 1990
Steven Brick, President 1991
James M. Seff, President 1992
Karen D. Kadushin, President 1993
Raymond C. Marshall, President 1994
Mark Schickman, President 1996
Douglas Young, President 2001
Jeffrey L. Bleich, President 2003
James M. Finberg, President 2005
Joan Haratani, President 2006
Nanci Clarence, President 2007
Russell Roeca, President 2009
Arturo J. González, President 2010
Priya Sanger, President 2011
Kelly M. Dermody, President 2012
Christopher Kearney, President 2013
Stephanie Skaff, President 2014
Timothy Moppin, President 2015