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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Trump University judge was just following the law

Trump has been blasting U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel for having an “inherent conflict of interest,” because of his Mexican heritage and Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Curiel, who is presiding over two of three lawsuits against Trump and Trump University, was born in Indiana to parents who emigrated from Mexico. But the presumptive Republican presidential nominee continues to rail against the judge for biased, negative and unfair rulings.

In particular, Trump points to Curiel’s use of a procedural move — a summary judgment — as evidence:
Whether Curiel is biased is a matter of opinion, not one we can fact-check. But we took a look at what exactly a summary judgment is, and whether the judge’s decision was anything out of the ordinary, as Trump suggests. As usual, Trump’s campaign did not respond to our request for comment.

The Facts

Trump University marketed its seminars and mentorship packages that cost up to $35,000 as opportunities for “students” to learn tricks of the real estate trade from mentors and instructors said to be “hand-picked” by Trump.

Both cases before Curiel are class-action lawsuits from former students, claiming fraud and demanding their money back. One lawsuit was filed in 2010 by students in California, Florida and New York,  and the other in 2013 by a plaintiff who alleged he was misled and upsold to pay for an $35,000 upgrade.

Trump is named as a defendant in both lawsuits, and has filed for a motion for summary judgment in both. Last year, Curiel ruled on the motion in the 2010 lawsuit. The motion in the 2013 lawsuit is pending a court hearing next month, as noted in this explainer by the Popehat blog.

A “summary judgment” is a procedural move that allows a judge to dismiss a case before going to trial. If summary judgment is granted, that means the judge found there’s “no genuine dispute of material fact” that requires a full trial. So all the judge is deciding is whether the two sides agree or disagree on facts — a pretty low bar.

When a judge grants a summary judgment, it’s usually for a narrow and straight-forward issue, said Kevin Johnson, dean of the University of California, Davis School of Law.

For example, a judge may grant it if someone is suing a defendant who has immunity from that specific lawsuit. Or a judge may grant it if someone was bringing an asbestos lawsuit against a manufacturer — but the manufacturer wasn’t making any products during the time that person claims they were injured.

“In any kind of complex factual case, it’s very hard to get summary judgment,” Johnson said. “The [Supreme] Court has made it clear that only in certain, limited cases, will summary judgment be granted. … We have a Constitution that requires civil cases to be submitted to a jury if there’s enough fact and dispute – and that’s a pretty important right to most people.”  (Continues at WaPo)

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