Vail Daily column: Does Donald Trump’s claim for recusal have merit? |

Vail Daily column: Does Donald Trump’s claim for recusal have merit?

Have you ever noticed, despite being born with a silver spoon in his perpetual-motion mouth, how “unfair” life is to Donald Trump? It is a statement he makes often. His opponents are “unfair” to him, the media is “unfair” to him, the Republican National Committee is “unfair” to him and, most recently, the courts are treating him “unfairly.”

Poor Donald. What it must be like to suffer such constant, libel, unfairness and injustice, especially as he treats others with such kind and gentle consideration.


As you may be following, The Donald’s Trump University is being sued — among other places — in federal court in San Diego for allegedly defrauding enrollees out of millions. It is a court with which I am familiar, having practiced in San Diego for a decade before moving to Colorado.

The judge in the San Diego federal case is Indiana-born Gonzalo Curiel, whose heritage is Mexican. Judge Curiel was named to the state bench in 2007 by none other than The Goverantor — who few would accuse of liberalism — and was elevated to the federal bench by President Obama in 2011. Judge Curiel, a distinguished jurist, earned his impeccable reputation, not insignificantly, for having come down hard, at considerable personal risk, on the Mexican cartels as assistant United States attorney in the Southern District of California beginning in the late 1980s.


In a recent interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, The Donald said that, because of Judge Curiel’s Mexican heritage, it was a “conflict of interest” that he should try the case.

Trump said, in part, “I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. This judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall. I think he should recuse himself.”

Tapper replied, “He’s American.”

To which Trump replied, “He’s of Mexican heritage.”

Tapper countered, “If you invoke his race as a reason why he can’t do his job …”

Trump jumped in, “I think that’s why he’s doing it.”

“If you are saying he can’t do his job because of his race, is that not the definition of racism?”

Trump said, “No. He’s proud of his heritage,” and repeated that he is “building a wall,” suggesting in no uncertain terms that since the wall he’d like to build would be to keep Mexicans out the U.S., Judge Curiel could not fairly administer the suit against Trump University.

In the five-minute interview, the link to which is here,, Trump said he that he was being treated unfairly or that “it wasn’t fair,” at least nine times.


Let’s put this in context.

Say I buy a new Accord from Ralph Schomp Honda in Denver. Let’s say further that the Honda I purchase is one of those with a defective Takata airbag. Let’s take this one step further and say that I am injured when the airbag malfunctions.

In our imaginary scenario, I sue Honda, Takata, and Schomp. I file suit in Denver District Court.

Takata and Honda are clearly of Japanese origin. Schomp appears to be a name of German ancestry. May I then object if any of Judges Egelhoff, Frick, Hoffman, Eliff, or Gerdes are assigned the case? After all, each of their surnames sounds suspiciously Germanic. And — God forbid — although there appear to be no Japanese surnames on the bench, what if one of the judges is married to an Asian!? Wouldn’t that be unfair? Shouldn’t I be able to have the judge step down owing to his or her heritage or the heritage of his or her spouse?


You will note that Lady Justice — the goddess Themis — is usually depicted with a blindfold. This is to signify that justice is blind which cuts two ways. First, justice is meted out evenly regardless of a party’s status. Rich or poor, black or white, Anglo or Hispanic are all afforded the same justice. And, too, the judge’s background, ethnicity, and prejudices are not brought into the courtroom. For Trump to assert otherwise — based on “heritage” alone — is insulting and, frankly, profoundly un-American.

Recusal — asking a judge to step down from a case — is reserved for cases of clear conflict or the appearance of prejudice. Say, for example, one of the judge’s in my imaginary case is my uncle or is married to my sister.


In my own experience of nearly 33 years’ practicing the law, I have met precisely one crooked judge, a judge who it turned out, was accepting bribes to throw cases. While some judges are wiser than others, some better than others, a crooked judge is as rare as a wild albino Bengal tiger… wearing a pink tutu. For Mr. Trump to suggest otherwise owing to his warped view of “unfairness” and to serve his own agenda is an affront to the judiciary and should be an offense to all fair-minded people.

Trump, this is simply not how justice works. You do not get to pick the justice that suits you. And, by the way, the only wall you’re building is between reason and civility on the one side and vitriol, injective, and intolerance on the other.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 and at either of his email addresses, and

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