From Trump’s Race Charge to San Francisco’s Most Bitter Court Disqualification Battle Ever: The Ethics of Federal Disqualification Motions

Peter Afrasiabi
September 09, 2016
Legal Ethics


During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Republican Nominee Donald J. Trump accused U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of bias against him while presiding over a case involving allegations of fraud against the now-defunct Trump University. Mr. Trump accused Judge Curiel of bias because in Mr. Trump’s words, Judge Curiel “happens to be, we believe, Mexican” and “I’m building a wall . . . It’s an inherent conflict of interest.” Of course, Mr. Trump is a litigant, and not a lawyer, and no lawyer who values his or her law license would levy such a charge against a judge. But what laws and ethics rules govern judges in deciding whether to recuse themselves from cases and govern lawyers when they accuse judges of bias?

Peter Afrasiabi, an experienced intellectual property lawyer, litigator and author of a book detailing one of the most bitter legal battles involving disqualification ever, provides practical guidance to lawyers who may be called upon to decide whether to challenge the impartiality of the judge hearing their case. As you might expect, challenging a judge for bias is a sensitive and risky matter that could have severe consequences for the lawyer if he or she gets it wrong, both in terms of potential ethical violations and court-imposed sanctions, as well as severe consequences with his or her clients. Mr. Afrasiabi deftly guides lawyers through the rules and the key cases related to bias, disqualification and race-based bias charges, while at the same time offering practical advice to lawyers to help them avoid the pitfalls that could get them in trouble with the courts, the state bar and their clients. He also weaves in a bit of legal history as he recounts the fascinating tale of labor leader Harry Bridges, whose deportation proceedings sparked the most bitter court battle ever over the disqualification of the federal judge presiding over Mr. Bridges’ case.


Peter Afrasiabi, Partner, One LLP, Newport Beach, CA

Peter is a founding partner at One, LLP, and focuses his practice on copyright, patent, trademark and entertainment litigation. In addition, he is a professor and the Director of the Appellate Clinic at University of California, Irvine School of Law. Peter graduated from University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

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