Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Lawyer's Perspective on Trump's "Conflict of Interest" Charges

I think a lot of lawyers must be rolling their eyes at Trump's statement that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should remove himself from the lawsuit against Trump University because (1) he is Hispanic, (2) he is an Obama nominee, and (3) he opposes Trump's policy of "build a wall."  Of course, we all know the real reason Trump thinks Curiel should remove himself is (4) he ruled against Trump.  And how could anyone possibly rule against Trump except for reasons of bias?  This quote explains very well why Trump's proposal could not possibly work:
Trump’s theory is, apparently, that anyone can get any judge disqualified for ‘conflict of interest’ just by saying things that the judge finds offensive enough . . . . Don’t like the Jewish judge on your case? Say things that are critical of Jews, and now the judge presumably has to step aside because of a conflict of interest. Don’t like the female judge? Say things that women tend to find offensive. Don’t like the judge who was a Republican activist? Say nasty things about Republicans.
Yeah, basically.  Under Trump's theory, every time a judge rules against Trump, he public insult the judge and force the judge to remove himself/herself from the case until Trump finally gets a judge who rules his way.  Of course, if we want to be consistent (not that I think consistency matters much to Trump, but just sayin') this rule cuts both ways and the other side could do the same thing.  But there is a basic asymmetry here.  A defendant can basically prevent the case form ever going to trial by regularly insulting whoever is judge at any given time -- a great deal for the defendant, because so long as the case does not go to trial, he cannot lose.  That is not so good a deal for the plaintiff, because so long as the case does not go to trial, the plaintiff cannot win.

I bring this up because just today I attended a hearing in which one of the lawyers had run for judge against the judge then presiding!  Another lawyer had donated to the presiding judge's campaign.  Imagine what Trump would have made of that!  (It was a simple matter, a hearing seeking the judge's permission to settle on behalf of a minor, but even so. . .).

And on a related by slightly different note, I just can't resist this post explaining why the judge's rulings are well within the norm and not reflective of bias.  I particularly like the following:
It sure sounds like Trump University made false statements and promises. But from what I've seen, the best defense (though not necessarily the one that Trump will follow) is that anyone minimally rational would have recognized that all of the Trump University sales patter was puffery, trumpery, and bullshit, the equivalent of saying your coffee shop offers the most amazing coffee in the universe. But that's a jury question on these facts. Trump's gigantic successes in the Republican primaries demonstrates that many Americans may not share my view that most of what he says is obviously not to be taken seriously.
 I'm not entirely sure of that.  Plenty of people have suggested that many of Trump's supporters are well aware that his promises are so much "puffery, trumpery and bullshit," they are just so happy to hear someone expressing their values and showing he cares about they same things they do that they don't care.

Still, I am inclined to think that Trump should be relieved that trial was postponed until after the election.  An unspoken understanding between a candidate and his supporters that his promises are so much hot air, and that he is just pandering with no intent of keeping is promises is one thing.  Having him stand up in court and say, "Anyone who's not a total chump should know better than to believe a word I say," is quite another.

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