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Trump's Lawyers Seem to Be Ignoring His Complaints About the 'Biased' Hispanic Judge

Trump has said Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a US citizen born in Indiana, can't remain impartial in a lawsuit against Trump University because "he's Mexican."

by Olivia Becker
Jun 6 2016, 5:18pm

Photo by Jason Szenes/EPA

In public, Donald Trump has repeatedly said the Hispanic judge overseeing a lawsuit against him should step down because his heritage makes him biased. Trump's own lawyers, however, have seemingly ignored his complaints.

The presumptive Republican nominee spent the better part of last week criticizing Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over the current lawsuit against Trump University. According to Trump, Curiel can't remain impartial in the case because "he's Mexican."

Trump said that the presence of Curiel — an American citizen born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents — poses a "conflict of interest" because of Trump's stated desire to build a wall on the Mexico-US border. Trump called Curiel a "hater" last week and said in multiple interviews and media appearances that the judge should recuse himself.

Related: Donald Trump Parts Ways With Top Campaign Operative in Latest Staff Shakeup

"I have a Mexican judge. He's of Mexican heritage. He should have recused himself, not only for that, for other things," Trump told the New York Times last Thursday. On Sunday, Trump went a step further and said a Muslim judge would also be similarly biased against him.

If Trump is serious that Curiel — or anyone else who is a member of an ethnic group that he has offended — can't be neutral, a legal avenue exists to remove him from the case. Lawyers can file a motion to recuse a judge if they can show actual proof that the judge holds unfair prejudices or personal biases that prevent impartiality. For instance, a judge would likely be disqualified if he or she had a prior relationship with one of the lawyers or had some other earlier involvement with the case in question.

But Trump's legal team hasn't indicated they'll actually be filing a motion to remove Curiel from the case, despite Trump's public calls to do so.

'The law is quite clear that a judge's ethnicity, race, gender or other such characteristic is never a valid basis for questioning the judge's impartiality.'

"The law is quite clear that a judge's ethnicity, race, gender or other such characteristic is never a valid basis for questioning the judge's impartiality," said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and expert on ethics rules surrounding legal cases.

Trump's lawyers could, and likely would, be sanctioned if they tried to recuse Curiel without showing adequate proof of his supposed bias, added Gillers. Judges typically don't like it when lawyers pull such a move, which can be seen as an attempt to interfere or delay the case by using procedural objections.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News.

Curiel has not publicly responded to Trump's allegations of bias.

"He's cool," said Gregory Vega, a former federal prosecutor who is close to Curiel, told the Times. "I don't think he's giving it a second thought."

But plenty of other people have responded to Trump's comments with outrage.

Related: The Trump vs. Clinton Showdown Is Already Getting Ugly

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, called Trump's comments "very vicious" on Sunday. "Judge Curiel is as American as I am, and certainly as American as Donald Trump is," Clinton said.

Republicans have also reacted with varying degrees of horror to Trump's remarks. Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House and a close ally to Trump, called the GOP candidate's comments "inexcusable" on Sunday.

"It was one of the worst mistakes Trump has made," Gingrich told Fox News Sunday. "I hope it was sloppiness."

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker
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