NEW YORK – The San Diego judge in the Trump University case, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, and friends who are partners in the San Diego-based law firm bringing the case against Trump, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLC, were seen partying together while two key motions in the case were pending before the court.
The event was a retirement party held on Aug. 28, 2015, for Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Jones and included a formal “roast” dinner with numerous colleagues paying tribute, followed by a cocktail after-party at San Diego’s fashionable Rooftop 600, an open-air rooftop bar complete with swimming pool, dance floor and city views, on top of the boutique Andaz Hotel near San Diego’s downtown Gaslight Quarter.
At the party for Jones, Curiel, a judge now but from 1989-2002 an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego, mixed with reputedly close friends, including Mike Dowd, one of the named partners who founded the Robbins Geller firm. He remains a member of the firm’s executive and management committee but also served two terms as an assistant U.S. attorney in Southern District of California, from 1987-1991 and again from 1994-1998, the second time contemporaneously with Curiel.
A potentially embarrassing affair
According to reports WND received from attendees, Curiel and Dowd gave testimonials at the “roast” dinner for Jones, with each recounting what were described by attorneys in attendance as typical for “roast” dinner testimonials lambasting the African-American attorney with off-color stories including racial-overtones that would prove embarrassing should a video or audio tape of the occasion become public.
At the rooftop after-party, Curiel had his photo taken with various alumni of the San Diego U.S. attorney’s office, including Dowd and U.S. District Judge “Billy” Hayes.
At the time Curiel was seen in public partying with Dowd, the judge had yet to rule on two important Robbins Geller procedural motions that would decide the future of the two companion cases brought by Robbins Geller in the Trump University case: namely, Tarla Makaeff v. Trump University, the companion class action suit to Cohen v. Trump, brought by Robbins Geller against Trump University.
Within three weeks of the after-party at Rooftop 600, Curiel decided both motions against Trump.
- On Sept. 18, 2015, Curiel issued the order that allowed Tarla Makeaff v. Trump to proceed in his court as a class action suit separate from Cohen v. Trump, such that Tarla Makeaff v. Trump would be limited to plaintiffs in New York, California, and Florida, while Cohen v. Trump would proceed in his court simultaneously, certified as a national class action suit.
- Then, on Sept. 21, 2015, Curiel ruled in Tarla Makeaff v. Trump that Robbins Geller could advertise on the Internet and in national print media soliciting for a potential plaintiff to participate or opt-out of participation in either (or both) in Tarla Makeaff v. Trump and/or Cohen v. Trump, provided potential plaintiff was on a court-approved list of those documented to have attended Trump University in the relevant time period.
Note: after Judge Curiel allowed lead plaintiff Tarla Makaeff to drop off the class action lawsuit, he allowed Robbins Geller to produce a substitute lead plaintiff, with the result Makaeff v. Trump now appears in U.S. District Court records as Low v. Trump University.
A San Diego fraternity of former U.S. attorneys
Curiel’s network of friends include two additional Robbins Geller partners with prior experience as U.S. attorneys in San Diego who are listed on court records as participating in the class action suits against Trump University.
Patrick J. Coughlin, the senior Robbins Geller partner serving as attorney of record in the case, was also a former assistant U.S. attorney general both in Washington, D.C., and in San Diego, in an era prior to Curiel. Coughlin’s brother, Timothy Coughlin, is currently serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in San Diego.
In addition to Mike Dowd and Patrick Coughlin, Curiel is also known in San Diego legal circles to be friends with X. Jay Alvarez, another Robbins Geller partner representing plaintiffs in the Cohen v. Trump case, who also served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California from 1991-2004.
Other former San Diego assistant U.S. attorneys who are partners at Robbins Geller include Jonah Goldstein, Scott Saham, and David Mitchell.
The Robbins Geller office at 655 W. Broadway in downtown San Diego is a 5-minute walk to Curiel’s courtroom at 221 West Broadway, and an equally short walk to the U.S. attorney’s office at 880 Front Street.
An impartial judge?
Nowhere in the case record of Cohen v. Trump does Curiel disclose that he is a close friend of Mike Dowd, a Robbins Geller senior partner whose name appears in the law firm’s name, not even when he certifies the lawsuit as a class action lawsuit and makes the highly lucrative appointment of Robbins Geller to represent the class.
In confidential emails to WND, several San Diego-based lawyers have pointed out that 28 U.S. Code §455, dealing with the disqualification of judges, states in paragraph (a) that any judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might be reasonably questioned, unless the judge provides full disclosure.
On Friday, May 27, Curiel ordered unsealed and available for public view nearly 400 pages of Trump University “playbooks” that described sales techniques and investment strategies taught at the Trump University real estate seminar, after Curiel granted a motion by the Washington Post to release the documents against the objections of legal counsel representing Trump.
Curiel’s order did not release any similarly sealed documents that might have been favorable to Trump, with the result that LawNewz.com reported the release caused a “mini-media storm” with news outlets rushing to report on the contents of the various released documents.
Late that same day, Curiel entered a new order that Law Newz.com described as essentially “trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube after realizing he had ‘mistakenly’ allowed certain documents to be unsealed without proper redactions, including for personal information.”
The reversal of the order did little to remedy the situation because, as LawNewz.com pointed out, several news media outlets had already obtained and posted the un-redacted versions online.
The incident served as fuel for inflammatory charges Trump had made earlier that same day at a rally in San Diego where Trump charged Curiel with bias in the Trump University case.
“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel. … I think Judge Curiel should be ashamed of himself,” Trump said at the rally, as reported by Politico. “I’m telling you, this court system, judges in this court system, federal court, they ought to look into Judge Curiel. Because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace, OK?”