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Donald Trump continued his attack on the federal judge presiding over the lawsuits against Trump University, alarming legal experts who believe it shows a disregard for judicial independence.
Escalating the personal attacks on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, Trump said Thursday there was “an absolute conflict” with the judge overseeing the civil suits because Curiel is “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The presumptive Republican nominee believes his stance on illegal immigration makes Curiel’s background relevant. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Trump said. Curiel, an Obama nominee serving on the district court in San Diego since 2012, was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, according to the Journal.
He also alleged that a lawyer for a Trump University plaintiff was a former colleague and friend of Curiel’s. Though they had once worked together as prosecutors, Jason Forge told the Journal they did not socialize as friends. “Neither Judge Curiel’s ethnicity nor the fact that we crossed paths as prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office well over a decade ago is to blame” for Trump’s actions, Forge said.
Legal observers grew increasingly worried at the personal and racially-tinged remarks by Trump, who could possibly emerge as president in November.
“If this continues, I would hope that some prominent federal judges would set Mr. Trump straight on what’s appropriate and what’s not in our democracy,” said University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank.
Trump’s latest attack followed comments he made Friday at a campaign rally in San Diego, calling Curiel “a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump.” Within minutes of Trump’s speech, the judge issued an order to unseal internal Trump University documents that reportedly revealed details in the business’s operations.
The real estate mogul also took his criticism to Twitter, saying he would re-open Trump University after he wins the case.
Trump said he believed to be treated unfairly by the courts is the bigger threat. “It’s called freedom of speech,” he said. And while legal experts agreed that defendants can express opinions about a judge hearing their case thanks to their First Amendment right to do so, being disruptive in court is another matter, the Journal reported.
Meanwhile, the judicial code of conduct prevents the judge from responding to Trump’s attacks, an aide told the Journal.
Trump told the Journal he may still consider filing a motion asking for the case to be reassigned to a different judge. Other judges, he said, would have thrown out the case.
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