A Washington D.C. law professor has given credence to Donald Trump’s charge that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel has a conflict of interest in a court case involving the likely Republican presidential nominee, saying the judge’s affiliation with a group that advocated for illegal immigrants creates “an appearance of impropriety.”
Mr. Curiel’s membership and active role in the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, whether or not it creates an actual bias, is enough to disqualify him from presiding over the case, said Victor Williams, a professor at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law.
“The standard isn’t that one has a personal bias and acknowledges such. That’s not the standard,” he said. “The standard is could there be an appearance of impropriety. That’s the standard.”
Mr. Trump has suffered stinging rebukes from Democratic and Republican leaders, including being labeled a “racist,” after he said last week that the judge’s Mexican heritage called into question his impartiality in presiding over a civil case against the billionaire businessman.
Mr. Trump is being sued by students who claim they were ripped off by the Trump University, which teaches courses in real estate strategies.
The lawsuit has become a painful distraction for the Trump campaign.
The judge’s affiliation with the La Raza Lawyers Association, which is politically active and supports rights of illegal immigration, “absolutely” meets the standard because Mr. Trump has taken a strong stance against illegal immigration and made it the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, the professor said.
“He has specifically participated in events where illegal aliens were celebrated, where illegal aliens were promoted with scholarships,” Mr. Williams said of the judge. “On a human basis I say, God bless [illegal immigrants]. But it is clear that from his association with La Raza Lawyers that he has political and ideological affiliation with illegal immigration proponents.”
Mr. Curiel’s membership in the lawyers association has been cited by conservatives and Trump supporters across the blogosphere as evidence of bias against Mr. Trump, buttressing Mr. Williams claim that the issue at the very least creates the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The evidence, which Mr. Williams also noted, included Mr. Curiel serving on a committee that awarded a college scholarship in 2014 to a student that described himself as “undocumented.”
Mr. Williams also is a political activist who previously supported President Obama, waged a short-lived campaign as a write-in candidate for president this year and sued to remove GOP candidate Sen. Ted Cruz from the New Jersey primary ballot.
He endorsed Mr. Trump this week.