Like many verbal bombs launched by Donald Trump, his latest missile, blasting the Mexican heritage of an American-born federal judge, hit close to home.
His sister, a fellow part-time Palm Beach resident, is a federal judge.
While legal scholars rushed to defend U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel and top Republican stalwarts lashed out at the implicit racism of Trump’s attack, the powerful sister of the presumptive GOP presidential nominee — U.S. Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry — wisely and typically failed to enter the fray that rocked her brother’s campaign.
Barry, the oldest of four surviving siblings, may be a Trump. But those who know her say she is no Donald Trump.
“She’s quiet. She doesn’t go to the balls,” longtime family friend and Florida Trump delegate Robin Bernstein said, struggling to find the words to describe Barry. “She’s everything you’d want a judge to be. She’s eloquent and articulate.”
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Former Palm Beach Town Councilman Bill Diamond, a formidable GOP fundraiser, laughed when asked to compare the two siblings.
“Well, they’re a little different,” he said. Then, he added, “In their own ways, they represent the best of the Trump family.”
But those ways can be very different, according to those who have reviewed opinions she’s written during her three-decade-long judicial career. Barry, herself, admitted as much in a rare public appearance in 2011 when she gave the commencement speech at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
“I’m a very private person,” Barry said, before launching into a self-deprecating speech where she talked about her own fears and self doubts, urging graduates to deal with theirs and rise above them.
» RELATED: Watch Judge Barry’s speech
The physical resemblance between the brother and sister is unmistakable. They share what one blogger described as “their impressively architectural hair.” Neither minces words. And until Trump embraced the Republican Party, ending a longtime practice of contributing to candidates on both sides of the aisle, they shared a bipartisan heritage.
Barry was appointed to the U.S. District Court in New Jersey in 1983 by Republican icon, President Ronald Reagan, and elevated to the Third Circuit in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, the husband of Trump’s Democratic challenger. Although Barry still hears cases, she took senior status in 2011, shortly after her address to Fairfield graduates.
But while the two siblings clearly share the same DNA in many ways, their descriptions of themselves, their definitions of success and their routes to achieve it are far different.
Trump talks about how he transformed their father’s real estate empire. Barry, in her commencement address, talked about how their parents struggled in poor families before coming to the United States as immigrants, and about her own struggles in college and her unconventional path to the judiciary. She was a homemaker for 13 years before she went to law school and, in her first job, was one of two females among 62 lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey.
“Scared?” she said, her deep voice rising slightly. “Every day.”
Further, whereas Trump talks about the millions he’s made, the golf courses and high-rises he’s built and the influence he peddles, Barry talked about lifting others up.
“Success can be as simple as the warm feeling you get when you smile at a stranger, someone you know must be lonely, and having that stranger return your smile,” she told graduates. “It can be the bringing of a child into the world and raising that child to be a good man or woman.”
Her greatest success? “My son,” she said of David Desmond, a neuropsychologist-turned-author she had with her first husband.
Unlike his mother, who most agree keeps a low profile when she visits her $11 million oceanfront mansion across from Trump’s Mar-A-Lago, Desmond turned into a minor celebrity in Palm Beach when he wrote The Rich Life, a weekly humor column, for The Palm Beach Daily News, the sister paper of the The Palm Beach Post. In his columns, which ended in 2013, and later two books, he gently skewered the rich and famous who inhabit the island.
The recurring character in his books is Oliver Booth, an overbearing and overweight Worth Avenue antique shop owner who dreams of making it rich while navigating through a gauntlet of trophy wives, private club posers, society matrons and phony aristocrats.
Though her son’s writing his humorous, his growing up wasn’t all laughs, Barry said. “There were some very tough years,” she said of her climb up the judicial ladder. “Years about which only my son and I really know.”
The flap over Curiel, the presiding judge in a California lawsuit filed by unhappy former students of the now defunct Trump University, isn’t the first time Barry has been dragged into her brother’s campaign.
In February, failed Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz attacked Barry as a “radical pro-abortion extremist.” In a presidential debate, he skewered Trump for a 2000 decision Barry wrote, striking down New Jersey’s late-term “partial-birth” abortion law.
But, Philadelphia attorney Matthew Stiegler, who reviewed that decision along with dozens of others Barry wrote in her prodigious judicial career, said Barry is no ideologue. She, along with two other judges, struck down the law because it was vague and therefore unconstitutional.
Exhibiting a brusque manner that she shares with her brother, she wrote an opinion that blasted lawmakers for engaging in “purposeful ambiguity” and said it was “shocking in the extreme” that they misled the public about what was involved in the procedure.
“Indeed, we, as was the District Court, are left to wonder whether the drafters chose a path of deliberate ambiguity, coupled with public outrage based largely on misinformation, in an attempt to proscribe legitimate abortion practices,” she wrote.
The opinion, Stiegler said was vintage Barry. “She can get fired up in a case, but she’s not fired up in a way that’s trying to help anyone along ideological lines,” he said. “She’s someone who wants government to function well.”
Clearwater attorney Gerald Seipp found the same trend in a 2006 decision Barry wrote, lambasting an immigration judge for not treating those who come before him with respect. Barry’s opinion stands in stark contrast with Trump’s rants against immigrants and his pledge to build a wall to keep Mexicans out — a promise he used to fuel his claims that he can’t get a fair shake from Curiel.
In the opinion, which Barry wrote for a three-judge panel, she talked about the nation’s history as a haven for people from others countries.
“It is a hallmark of the American system of justice that anyone who appears as a litigant in an American courtroom is treated with dignity and respect,” she wrote, quoting a previous court decision. “In a country built on the dreams and accomplishments of an immigrant population, a particularly severe wound is inflicted on that principle when an immigration matter is not conducted in accord with the best of our tradition of courtesy and fairness.”
She followed those soaring words with a blunt beat-down. Because of the “bullying nature” of the immigration judge, she wrote, “a petitioner was ground to bits.” Ultimately, as a result of the criticism and other complaints, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office investigated and removed the judge from the bench.
But, again Stiegler said, Barry wasn’t arguing a political point. She simply wanted decorum in the court.
Despite her own trials of being a woman working in a man’s world, she hasn’t showed a deference for females. In 2002, she and another judge rejected a discrimination lawsuit a group of women filed against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, contesting a requirement that job applicants be able to run 1½ miles in 12 minutes.
“While it is undisputed that SEPTA’s 1.5 mile run test has a disparate impact on women, it is also undisputed that, in addition to those women who could pass the test without training, nearly all the women who trained were able to pass after only a moderate amount of training,” she wrote in upholding the requirement. “It is not, we think, unreasonable to expect that women — and men — who wish to become SEPTA transit officers, and are committed to dealing with issues of public safety on a day-to-day basis, would take this necessary step.”
Whatever political differences she and her brother have, most agree they and their other siblings are close. Trump looked on when she addressed Fairfield graduates and he vigorously defended her against Cruz’s attacks, albeit somewhat ham-handedly. He called the opinion she wrote “a bill.” But, he said, “She’s a brilliant judge.”
While Barry is unlikely to join her brother on the campaign trail or publicly help him clean up the mess he created when he attacked Curiel, she supports him, those who know them say.
“She’s very bright, very approachable, very smart,” Palm Beach financial planner Bill Mikus said. “She very loyal to her brother. Family, family, family.”
See Judge Maryanne Trump Barry’s speech at Fairfield University, myPalmBeachPost.com/trumpsisterspeech
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MARYANNE TRUMP BARRY
Judicial Experience: Appointed to the U.S. District Court for New Jersey by President Ronald Reagan; served from 1983 to 1999. Appointed in 1999 by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which decides cases from Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Served until June 2011, when she went on senior status, which allows her to still handle cases.
Professional: Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1974-1983.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, 1958, Mount Holyoke College; master’s degree, 1962, Columbia University; law degree, 1974, Hofstra University School of Law.
Personal: Widow of John Barry, who died in 2000. Divorced from David Desmond in 1980. They had one child. Oldest of Donald Trump’s surviving four siblings.