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Border & Immigration

San Diego's Former U.S. Attorney Defends Judge Against Trump Bias Allegations

Gregory Vega, a former U.S. attorney for San Diego, defends U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel against allegations of bias by Donald Trump in a case involving his defunct university, June 5, 2016. Vega and Curiel are childhood friends.
Katie Schoolov
Gregory Vega, a former U.S. attorney for San Diego, defends U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel against allegations of bias by Donald Trump in a case involving his defunct university, June 5, 2016. Vega and Curiel are childhood friends.

More than a week after calling out the judge in the Trump University class-action lawsuit, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has continued to question the judge’s ability to be fair and unbiased.

Now, one of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel's childhood friends and colleagues is speaking out.

San Diego's Former U.S. Attorney Defends Judge Against Trump Bias Allegations
Gregory Vega, the former U.S. attorney for San Diego, has known U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel since the two met in the ninth grade. They grew up together in East Chicago, Indiana.
Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel is shown in this undated photo.
Courtesy photo
Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel is shown in this undated photo.

“Judge Gonzalo Curiel and I were born on the same day, in the same hospital, but we didn’t meet until the ninth grade,” said Gregory Vega, an attorney with the San Diego law firm of Seltzer, Caplan, McMahon, Vitek.

Vega and Curiel grew up in East Chicago, Indiana, in steel country. Vega and Curiel worked together when Vega was the U.S. attorney for San Diego. As an assistant U.S. attorney in the office, Curiel specialized in narcotics cases. Vega remembers when the Arellano-Felix cartel in Tijuana targeted Curiel for assassination in the 1990s. Curiel was removed to a Navy base and escorted by the U.S. Marshals Service.

“He’s a pro," Vega said. "(Curiel) kept his eye on the ball. He stayed focused and kept working.”

Vega said he’s confident Curiel is not following Trump’s comments. Trump has called the judge unfair and questioned whether he could receive a fair trial because Curiel’s parents are from Mexico.

“I think it’s offensive," Vega said. "For me, I’m angry. Initially, when he made a comment in February, I was hoping that it would die down. But when Mr. Trump raised the issue again, I felt a duty of loyalty to my lifelong friend to speak up and to let the public know what a great person Gonzalo Curiel is.”

Both Curiel and Vega are members of San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association. Trump said recently that Curiel’s membership in the group is further evidence of bias. But the local legal group is not affiliated with the national La Raza organization, a social justice group that has protested outside Trump events.

The San Diego class-action suit over Trump University is scheduled to be heard Nov. 28. The suit alleges that the university's seminars were essentially a scheme to persuade students to pay for more, even though they were already paying as much as $35,000 for the seminars.