Maligned by litigant, judge goes on to rule in his favor in dispute

To be impartial is an arch-virtue in a judge. Unfairly maligned, the Hon. Gonzalo Curiel did not respond with unfairness in kind when presented with a dispute over the proposed border wall [ABA Journal, earlier on “so-called,” “hater,” etc.]


  • It is a shame that many judges do not follow Judge Curiel’s lead.

    Criticism of judges, even by litigants, is not necessarily bad form. I’ve seen judges miss some pretty basic things, even when it was pointed out to them. That’s not acceptable, and there shouldn’t be some sort of lese-majeste when it comes to the bench.

    • While not all criticism of judges by litigants at all times is necessarily bad form — especially after a case ends — Trump’s attacks on Curiel during the Trump University proceedings were a grotesque breach of propriety, especially for someone running for president, and a permanent stain on Trump’s record.

      • Trump’s criticism was over-the-top–I should have mentioned that in my comment– Trump’s breach of propriety speaks for itself. But in reading my comment, it looks like a non-defense defense of Trump’s actions, and that was not the intent.

        Obama’s criticism of the Citizens United case was over the top as well, and while not as gauche as Trump’s ugly comments regarding Judge Curiel, the criticism was arguably far more damaging to our polity. The idea that political speech could be criminalized (which is what CU was all about) calls into question the very foundations of freedom, and Obama’s sophistry (amplified by the press) should disgust one and all.

        Given Obama’s statements about CU, no Democrat has any business criticizing Trump for his coarse thuggery.

        I do think, however, judges should be ruthlessly criticized when they make mistakes or get things wrong.

  • One must question why it is improper for a citizen to criticize a judge, but not any other member of government. Certainly, if it was a congressman or governor that was criticized, then it would be considered freedom of speech. Judges should not be beyond reproach, especially with regards to bias. Unfortunately, judges feel they own their own fiefdom and treat the public who enter their courtrooms with disdain. Judges are public servants who are supposed to serve the public, but too often they view themselves as autocrats.

    • If you are an ordinary litigant drawn into the workings of justice, the main argument against nastily impugning a judge mid-trial is that it is stupid and forces the judge to put his impartiality to a tougher test. A second argument, which may be enough by itself, if that if you impugn a judge not just nastily but wrongly or unfairly — by referencing his parents’ original ethnic origin or calling him a “hater,” to cite two examples — you wrongly bring not just an individual but also the workings of justice under suspicion. So don’t utter false statements like that, even if you are Joe or Jane Average Defendant or Plaintiff.

      If, on the other hand, you are a nationally famous candidate whose words will be taken as true by thousands of uncritical listeners, and you are running for an office as chief magistrate in charge of the very legal system you are talking about, then you have two additional very good reasons to hold your tongue. And you can expect two additional reasons why falsely maligning a judge will rightly draw down condemnation on your head then, now, and for as long as people remember the episode.

      • I’d also add that it *does* fall under freedom of speech. Trump was not arrested or punished for his comments. The rest of us, however, also have freedom of speech, and are free to criticize him for his criticism.

        Furthermore, I think if the original comments made by Trump (apparently impugning him based on perceived nationality) were directed towards a congressman or governor, they still would have been criticized. It’s not *just* because the target was a judge.

        • Trump was not directly impugning Judge Curiel because of his race, rather because he had heard the Judge was a member of the La Raza Lawyers Association.

          Now, La Raza Lawyers Association is not affiliated with National Council of La Raza, and purportedly doesn’t share their political goals, but NCLR is quite well known, the LRLA much less so. The inference that members of an organization using “La Raza” in its name would be biased against his immigration policies wasn’t unreasonable even if it turned out to be erroneous.

          • Trump’s”Mexican judge” and “hater” references speak for themselves and are waaay less nuanced than the explanations that some assign in retrospect. As for innocent error, one good rule before loudly maligning a judge who has ruled against you in an ongoing trial, to whip up angry supporters at a public rally, is to do your homework first.

          • The La Raza Lawyers Association is probably not something a judge should belong to–but as Mr. Olson says “Mexican judge” speaks for itself in its ugliness.

            I happen to believe that Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment does as well, and the only difference between her comment and Trump’s is the tone.