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Trump-assailed judge gets 'dreamer' suit

Deportation case randomly assigned to Indiana jurist president once called biased

By Samantha Schmidt The Washington Post

This article was originally published April 21, 2017 at 2:53 a.m. Updated April 21, 2017 at 2:53 a.m.

In a lawsuit in California filed on behalf of Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, who immigration advocates say is one of the first "dreamers" to be deported under President Donald Trump, the administration is up against the same judge Trump accused of being biased because of his Mexican heritage.

The personal, racially tinged remarks against U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel in relation to a case involving the defunct Trump University alarmed legal experts and drew fierce criticism from the Republican Party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Attorneys on behalf of Montes, who was brought to the U.S. as a child, filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding that the federal government turn over all information about the 23-year-old's case. They assert that the California resident was deported in February despite his status as a "dreamer" -- a beneficiary of President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Department of Homeland Security disputes their claim.

Despite conflicting accounts, the allegations heightened existing concerns that program recipients are now being targeted for deportation, notwithstanding Trump's pledges to "show great heart" toward them. Montes' lawsuit could help define Trump's approach to the program, which has granted permits to more than 770,000 people since 2012.

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Tuesday's lawsuit came less than a month after Curiel approved a $25 million settlement in a case alleging Trump University misled customers and committed fraud. Trump frequently assailed the judge, and in one interview said his Mexican heritage presented an "absolute conflict" in his fitness to hear the lawsuit because of Trump's tough stance on immigration and his promises to build a border wall.

Curiel, who was born in Indiana to parents who moved to the U.S. from Mexico, made no public comments about Trump's attacks and did not recuse himself in the Trump University case.

Legal experts say the attacks against Curiel, an Obama appointee who was a former U.S. attorney, should not affect his fitness to hear the lawsuit, a case that was randomly assigned to the judge. The judicial code of conduct states that impropriety occurs when "reasonable minds" with knowledge of the relevant circumstances would conclude that the judge's honesty, integrity or impartiality is impaired.

"The idea that you would lack impartiality because you were criticized by a public official just never has been thought of something that would meet that standard," said Scott Cummings, Robert Henigson Professor of Legal Ethics at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law. This, he said, was a fairly clear-cut case in which the judge should have complete authority to hear the merits of the suit.

If such a standard of impartiality existed, Cummings said, public officials would have a "perverse" incentive to criticize judges with differing opinions.

Since taking office, Trump has continued to criticize the judicial system and some judges. In February he lashed out at the "so-called judge" that decided to temporarily block enforcement of his contentious travel ban, sending tweets throughout the day. He later said an appeals court's hearing regarding his immigration executive order was "disgraceful" and claimed the judges were more concerned about politics than following the law.

Cummings said the "vitriol" and personal nature of the attacks on the judiciary are at a level he has never seen before.

The assignment of the dreamer lawsuit to Curiel, Cummings said, "is an amazing coincidence and one which might make the president think twice next time he wants to criticize in personal terms judges on the bench."

A Section on 04/21/2017

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