INDIANAPOLIS — The federal judge born and educated in Indiana, whom Donald Trump has branded as a “hater” and a Mexican, has something the Republican presidential candidate doesn’t — a censor.
The judicial code of conduct, which U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel is obligated to follow, prevents him from responding publicly to the verbal assaults launched by Trump.
That’s not so for Curiel’s admirers. Ken Turchi, who graduated from Indiana University Maurer School of Law a few years behind Curiel, was proud to see the East Chicago native inducted last month into the university’s elite Academy of Law Alumni Fellows.
Now an IU assistant dean, Turchi said only about 100 of 11,000 law school alumni have earned the designation, which is bestowed for outstanding contributions to the nation.
The list includes the late Republican presidential candidate and Indiana-born Wendell Willkie.
“He’s as homegrown as Wendell is,” Turchi said of Curiel.
That’s not how he’s been cast.
Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, is furious at Curiel for decisions he’s made while presiding over two class-action lawsuits filed against the now-inactive real estate school Trump University. Former students accuse the business of fraud.
Trump has noted Curiel’s ethnicity repeatedly as part of his criticism. He upped the intensity last week, when he said Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican,” and demanded the judge remove himself from the case.
Trump doubled-down this week, saying Curiel has an “absolute conflict” in handling the case because he is “of Mexican heritage.”
His reasoning was that Curiel is biased against Trump because of his call to erect a wall along the Mexican border to deflect people crossing into the United States illegally.
Curiel’s admirers say they found irony and ignorance in those remarks.
For starters, Curiel is the son of legal immigrants who came here 70 years ago. During Curiel’s previous career as a federal prosecutor, as he aggressively dismantled a Mexican drug cartel, a drug lord put a bounty on his head.
In unraveling that violent criminal network, which was responsible for more than 100 murders in the United States, Curiel also prosecuted corrupt U.S. customs inspectors who allowed cocaine to be trafficked over the border.
Anne-Marie O’Connor, a former Los Angeles Times reporter who came to know Curiel while covering the prosecution, called Trump’s comments “clearly absurd.”
Though Curiel cannot publicly comment himself, he has spoken about his Mexican heritage and what it means to him.
In a 2014 commencement address at his IU alma mater, Curiel spoke of the transformative nature of a “great public university.”
“I was not born a federal judge. My parents were not wealthy or well-connected or even educated,” he said.
His father, he explained, came to the United States with a fourth-grade education and took a back-breaking job in a steel mill to help his family achieve the American dream.
“Then Indiana University made it possible for my older brother and me to attend law school,” he said. “In one generation — poor immigrant to lawyers. We were made in America, using the tools of hard work and education and opportunity open to everyone willing to earn it.”
“But if not for this wonderful place, life could have been different,” he said.
Turchi shared a transcript of Curiel’s speech, in which he remembers the judge calling on the young graduates to dedicate themselves to selfless service, to protect the nation’s rights and liberties and to do so with civility toward allies and opponents alike.