Trump suggests possibility of civil case against federal judge; what about a recusal motion?

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Donald Trump is accusing the federal judge overseeing a Trump University lawsuit of bias and raising the possibility of his own lawsuit after the election.

Trump’s ire is directed at U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who ordered the release of internal Trump University materials in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of dissatisfied students who took the real-estate investment course. Trump’s verbal attacks on the judge concern some legal experts, who believe his remarks signal “a remarkable disregard for judicial independence,” the Washington Post reports.

Politico has a transcript of Trump’s comments about the judge, made at a San Diego rally. “I have a judge who is a hater of Donald trump. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel. And he is not doing the right thing,” Trump said. “I am getting railroaded by a legal system, and frankly they should be ashamed. I will be here in November. Hey, if I win as president, it is a civil case.”

Trump goes on to call Curiel “a very hostile judge … who happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” (The judge was born in Indiana, the Post points out.)

“Frankly he should recuse himself.” Trump said. “He has given us ruling after ruling, negative, negative, negative. …

“It is a disgrace. It is a rigged system. I had a rigged system, except we won by so much. This court system, the judges in this court system, federal court. They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. OK? But we will come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I am president and come back and do a civil case?”

Curiel’s order on Friday requiring release of the documents noted that Trump is the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination and he “has placed the integrity of these court proceedings at issue,” according to another Politico story.

Curiel cited precedent requiring judges considering disclosure of litigation materials to take into account whether the party benefiting from confidentiality is a public official and whether the case is about issues of concern to the public. Curiel also said much of the material at issue was “largely duplicative” of a 2010 document posted online in full by Politico.

Among the legal experts who spoke with the Washington Post is Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Charles Gardner Geyh. He said he had no problem with presidential candidates criticizing judges, but “there’s a line between disagreement and sort of throwing the judiciary under the bus that I think is at issue here.”

Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the Post that Trump could file a complaint with the federal court of appeals, provide evidence of bias, and file a disqualification motion. He could also ask Curiel to recuse himself and file an appeal if he declined.

Wheeler expressed doubts about Trump’s possibility of success. From what he has seen, Wheeler said, Curiel “has been nothing but fair in this case.”

ABA President Paulette Brown issued a statement Thursday on judicial independence and impartiality.

“While publicly criticizing judicial decisions is every person’s constitutional right, levying personal criticism at an individual judge and suggesting punitive action against that judge for lawfully made decisions crosses the line of propriety and risks undermining judicial independence. Anyone running for the highest office in the land should understand that the independence of the judiciary is essential for an effective and orderly government and justice system.”

Updated at 4:54 p.m. to include the ABA president’s statement.

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