Can we talk a big, fat political conflict of interest? Can we talk the lawyers and the judge involved in the lawsuits against Trump University? Let’s throw in identity politics and, but of course, follow the money.
Well of course there’s a conflict.
What did you expect when you saw the breathless headlines blare about Trump University lawsuits? The impression being assiduously cultivated that Donald Trump, a billionaire ten times over, set up some sort of elaborate con to scam regular folks on real estate.
What’s not being said? What questions are not being asked? How about this? How about asking just who is pursuing these cases against Donald Trump? What if what’s really going on here is… a witch trial? A rigged game designed to produce a desired political end — the smearing of Donald Trump — to enable the political fortunes of Democrats generally, and Hillary Clinton specifically?
Let’s examine the players in this lawsuit.
The players are:
The Judge: U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the California federal judge in the Trump University law suit case.
The Lawyers: Two law firms: Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP and Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck LLP.
And let’s not forget another player, this one in New York. That would be:
The New York Attorney General: Eric Schneiderman.
The Play: As detailed here in Law360, this is how the game works:
Law360, Los Angeles (October 28, 2014, 4:00 PM ET) — A California federal judge has granted class certification in a Racketeer influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act suit accusing Donald Trump of scheming to make millions of dollars by falsely claiming attendees of Trump University LLC seminars would learn his real estate secrets.
… In addition to certifying the class, Judge Curiel on Friday appointed Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP and Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck LLP as class counsel.
Stop. Stop right there. Let’s parse.
Who is the “California federal judge” who not only granted “class certification” to the lawsuit against Trump — but then assigned the two law firms now involved with the case?
That would be Gonzalo Curiel. Who is he? Trump has gotten flak for referring to Curiel’s Mexican heritage (he was born in Indiana). Yet right here the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association is making a point of honoring Curiel for “his leadership and support to the community and to our Association!” — exclamation point theirs. The “community” in question is not the San Diego community of all ethnic groups, races, and genders who happen to be lawyers. What is the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association all about? Their mission statement (here) reads, in part, this way:
Formed in 1979, with a handful of Latino attorneys, San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association (SDLRLA) has grown to represent over three hundred Latino and Latina lawyers practicing in San Diego County. SDLRLA is one of 18 affiliate bar associations of the California La Raza Lawyers Association, which serves several thousand Latino lawyers practicing in the State of California.
Our purpose is to advance the cause of equality, empowerment and justice for Latino attorneys and the Latino community in San Diego County through service and advocacy.
In other words? The group that honored Curiel, an Obama appointee (and campaign contributor to House Democratic Conference Chairman Xavier Becerra) proudly boasts that the sole reason for their existence is — their ethnicity. They are not about “the cause of equality, empowerment and justice” for all San Diego attorneys regardless of ethnicity. They are quite boldly only for these things when they concern, their words, “Latino attorneys and the Latino community.” And clearly they see Judge Curiel as one of their own. And apparently the Judge agrees. In other words, when Donald Trump points out the judge’s ethnicity “happens to be, we believe, Mexican,” at a minimum the judge himself is all too willing to associate himself with his ethnicity, eagerly accepting an award citing his willingness to give “support to the (Latino) community and to our (Latino) Association!” If the Judge himself goes out of his way to make certain everyone knows he is Latino — is not Trump more than justified in being wary of a judge deciding his case with what seems to be a serious ethnic axe to grind?
Move on to the two law firms that Curiel selected to represent the class action case against Trump University. The first, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, lists as its senior partner partner Darren J. Robbins. And a check with the FEC shows that Robbins has made over a hundred campaign contributions over the years, far and away most of them going to Democrats. Including a contribution of $2700 on May 12, 2015 to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. That would be the Hillary Clinton who, assuming she polishes off the Sanders challenge, will be the Democratic nominee against… Donald Trump.
Then there’s that second firm selected by Judge Curiel to be involved in the Trump University lawsuit — Zeldes Haeggquist & Eck LLP. The senior partner in that firm? If you guessed she was a multiple contributor to Barack Obama you would of course be right. But she was also a one-time donor in 2004 to… MoveOn.org. You know Move On, the people who back there in 2004 were running an ad comparing President Bush to Hitler. Today? Today MoveOn has this to say about Donald Trump:
For as long as Donald Trump is a presidential candidate, MoveOn members will continue to call out and nonviolently protest his racist, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, and violent behavior… Trump and those who peddle hate and incite violence have no place in our politics and most certainly do not belong in the White House.
And let’s not forget New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Schneiderman filed a $40 million law suit against Trump University in 2013 charging fraud. This after repeated campaign solicitations to Trump family members and business associates, as I detailed here three years ago. Solicitations along the line of the Mafia Don who stops by to say “ya gotta nice little business going here, ya wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.” Curiously, this very same Eric Schneiderman got a $15,000 campaign contribution in 2010 from two lawyers in a law firm named… Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP. They being one of the firms Judge Curiel would assign to the Trump University class action cases. Amazing coincidence.
Let’s cut to the chase here, shall we? The accusation here is not that all these people have broken some law somewhere. The point is very simple. By October 2014 — when Judge Curiel granted that class certification to the Trump lawsuits and gave the nod to two law firms led by serious liberals who between them had given money to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and MoveOn.org — it was well known that Donald Trump was considering a race for president in 2016, as noted here among other places by the Huffington Post. He was not a shy man about his views. And, of course, he was Donald Trump the famous billionaire whether he ran for the White House or not. What a big, fat exciting target for liberal activist lawyers!
None of this makes the media coverage. Has Eric Schneiderman endorsed Hillary Clinton for president? Yes.Is that factored in to the coverage? No.
Take this recent story from May 28 at the Washington Post — the Post itself a virulently anti-Trump paper. What’s missing in this Trump University story? Any references to the Judge’s waltz with legal-style identity politics that can easily lead an observer — like Donald Trump — to believe the Judge’s Latino heritage is in fact playing a role in his decisions on this case? No. Any look at the law firms involved, the money ties to Hillary and the rest of liberal land? No. In other words? Every effort is made to portray all of the Trump University cases as just a coldhearted billionaire-turned-presidential nominee shamelessly squeezing nickels from unsuspecting hard-working Americans. And if this storyline, saturated into the political discourse, happens to hinder the Trump campaign? Ah, well. Tough cookies.
Tough cookies indeed. What we have here is the case against Trump University being so riven with political conflicts of interest that it is clear Trump is not a defendant but the subject of a political witch hunt. A witch hunt fueled by everything from identity politics to campaign contributions.
To borrow a much used phrase from this election cycle? The case against Trump University appears to have been rigged right from the get-go.
Michael Vadon/Creative Commons