President-Elect Trump, the Federal Judiciary, and Thanksgiving

By Carl Tobias

Last Friday, Donald Trump, thousands of Trump University students, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that they had settled three long running cases alleging that the school had defrauded many students. The lawsuits’ settlement resulted substantially from concerted efforts by Southern District of California Judge Gonsalvo Curiel. The jurist persistently moved toward resolution one case, which he had scheduled for trial next Monday while suggesting that the parties consider a settlement. At Thanksgiving, Mr. Trump and millions of Americans should give thanks for the dedicated service rendered by Judge Curiel and hundreds of federal judges, who assiduously labor every day to deliver justice.

One of the class action suits in San Diego was assigned to Judge Curiel whom President Barack Obama appointed in 2012. Trump and his counsel vigorously defended the case. When responding in March to questions on MSNBC, Trump bragged: “I don’t settle cases. You know what happens? When you start settling lawsuits, everybody sues you. I don’t get sued, because I don’t settle cases. I win in court.”

During May, Judge Curiel had been carefully overseeing the litigation when Mr. Trump vociferously criticized the jurist’s preliminary rulings in the lawsuit, described Curiel as a “hater” of Mr. Trump and challenged the judge’s objectivity by asserting “I have a Mexican judge. He should have recused himself.” The next month, Trump continued to lodge similar attacks, sparking a national controversy, which only decreased after Trump published a statement contending that his criticisms had been “misconstrued as a categorical attack against people of Mexican heritage.”

Judge Curiel ignored Trump’s withering, unjustified attacks and never addressed them publicly, while he dispassionately continued steering the class action toward final resolution. After Trump had captured the presidency, he and Daniel Petrocelli, Trump’s counsel in the litigation, seemingly decided to pursue a less confrontational approach. The attorney recently broached the prospect of settlement in court while seeking the trial’s postponement until after January 20, so as not to disrupt Trump’s participation in the transition. On Friday, Petrocelli announced that the President-Elect had agreed to settle for $25 million without admitting liability, which enabled him to avoid potentially embarrassing revelations immediately before Trump assumed office. Judge Curiel concomitantly expressed hope in court that the settlement and the presidential campaign’s conclusion would start a “healing process that this country very sorely needs.”

On Thanksgiving, the American people and Mr. Trump should be thankful for the many federal judges whose quotidian endeavors protect the rule of law that is the nation’s very foundation. The President-Elect and senators must keep in mind these exemplars when discharging their solemn constitutional duties to propose, and provide advice and consent on, highly qualified, mainstream judicial nominees starting in January.

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