June 13, 2016

Dear Citizens of San Diego County:

I am sure many of you have heard the rhetoric during the Presidential election about our justice system that has singled out one of our own federal judges and a prominent legal association in our community.  The awful things that have been said are not only unfounded, but they also are completely distorted.  In our community, where nearly 16,000 attorneys practice law day in and day out, it is incumbent on each and every one of us to reject these statements.

Specifically, I am referring to the comments made by Donald Trump, a candidate for the highest office in our country, who mounted a personal attack on District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, based solely on his ethnicity, and criticized the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association (SDLRLA), of which Judge Curiel is a member. The San Diego County Bar Association (SDCBA) is a non-partisan organization, and as such, we will not speak to the merits of Mr. Trump's candidacy.  However, to stay true to our mission as the voice of San Diego’s legal community and as a champion of diversity in all aspects of the law, it is our responsibility to address these attacks.

First, a judge's ethnic background, nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or age, are not a basis for a judge to remove him/herself from a case.  Our judicial system relies on our collective belief that judges are applying the law fairly, are independent and impartial, are free from financial, political, or other influences, and are acting without fear of retribution.  Thus, any unfounded attack on an individual judge’s character is not merely irresponsible – it is detrimental to our entire system of justice.

Second, SDLRLA has a 40-year history of serving its mission of “advancing the cause of equality, empowerment and justice for Latino attorneys and the Latino community” in San Diego. SDLRLA is a volunteer-driven organization that is open and welcoming to members of all ethnic backgrounds. Throughout its history, the organization has initiated, promoted and supported extraordinary diversity and inclusion efforts in our community. The ghastly racist and other attacks SDLRLA has endured as a result of Mr. Trump's remarks over the last few weeks are unconscionable. We stand by and offer our unwavering support to SDLRLA in its effort to combat racism in every form and to educate the San Diego community on professionalism in the face of ignorance and hate.

The SDCBA remains committed to civility, integrity, and professionalism.  It is our hope that, regardless of the issue or the cause, each of us will remember and adhere to these values in our day-to day lives.  We raise our collective voice and stand with La Raza.  We firmly believe that, together, we can work towards a day when ignorance and hate in any form will no longer be tolerated.  

Best regards,

Heather S. Riley
2016 San Diego County Bar Association President
On behalf of the SDCBA Board of Directors