Indiana-Born Judge Targeted by Trump Urges Civility, Warns Against Reacting to Slights
(INDIANAPOLIS) - The East Chicago-born federal judge who drew headlines on the receiving end of a Donald Trump rant last year is back home to talk about his career to a State Bar Association audience.
Trump drew accusations of racism when he claimed Gonzalo Curiel's "Mexican heritage" meant he couldn't be fair in hearing fraud claims against Trump University. Then-Governor Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan were among those who criticized Trump. The president-elect settled the claims before his inauguration.
In a 40-minute speech, Curiel never referenced the controversy directly. But he recalled a partner at his first law firm in northwest Indiana advising him not to react to rulings he thought unfair, but to stay focused on his job. And he reminded the crowd of the fourth-grade robotics team from Indy's Pleasant Run Elementary School, which was greeted at one competition by taunts of "go back to Mexico." Curiel says the kids didn't sulk or react, but used the abuse as motivation for the competition, which they won.
And Curiel noted the "acrimony" in today's public discourse, telling his audience to "avoid the distractions offered up on a daily basis, [and] move forward with civility instead of squabbling."
Curiel traced his path from growing up as the son of immigrants, to prosecuting drug kingpins in southern California in the U.S. Attorney's office, to state and federal judgeships. He says his childhood in the melting pot of northwest Indiana taught him the value of hard work and working together. And he spoke admiringly of his younger brother, the first to earn his law degree, and his older brother, who took his college diploma to a job as a school custodian after the bankruptcy of LTV Steel left him out of work at age 50.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel at the federal courthouse in Indianapolis. (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)