UPDATED – Michael Truncale – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas

UPDATED 4/19 with comment from the Department of Justice

A longtime stalwart in the Texas Republican Party and a one-time Congressional candidate, Michael Truncale is a strongly conservative pick for the Eastern District of Texas.

Background

A native of Beaumont, Michael Joseph Truncale was born in 1957.  Truncale received a B.B.A. from Lamar University in 1978 and an M.B.A. from the University of North Texas in 1980.[1]  After two years as a Financial Analyst, Truncale attended Southern Methodist University School of Law, serving as Student Bar Association President there, and getting his J.D. in 1985.[2]  He then joined the Beaumont firm Orgain, Bell & Tucker as an associate.[3]  In 1991, Truncale became a partner at Orgain and still works as a partner there.[4]

History of the Seat

Truncale has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, to a seat vacated on February 28, 2018, with Judge Ron Clark’s move to senior status.

In April 2017, Truncale applied for a judgeship with the Evaluation Committee set up by Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans.[5]  He interviewed with the Committee on April 20, 2017.[6]  Truncale then interviewed with Cornyn and Cruz in May 2017, after which his name was submitted to the White House.[7]  Truncale interviewed with the White House late in July 2017.  His nomination was submitted to the U.S. Senate on January 23, 2018.

Political Activity & Memberships

Truncale has a long history of involvement with the Texas Republican Party, starting with working as a volunteer during the 1984 Presidential election.  From 2006 to 2014, Truncale served on the Executive Committee of the Texas Republican Party.[8]  He also was a Republican Delegate for John McCain in 2008 and a volunteer for the Trump campaign.[9]

Additionally, Truncale has been a generous donor to Republicans. Cornyn has been a particular beneficiary, having received almost $7000 in contributions over the last twelve years.[10]  Truncale also donated $1000 to Cruz in 2015.[11]

In 2011, after congressional redistricting reshaped Texas’ 14th Congressional District and Rep. Ron Paul declined to run for re-election, Truncale was the first Republican candidate to announce his campaign.[12]  In his campaign, Truncale emphasized his support for a Balanced Budget Amendment, cutting back federal regulations, and his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.[13]  Ultimately, Truncale came in third in the Republican primary, securing 14.03% of the vote, and did not make the runoff, which was eventually won by then State Rep. Randy Weber.[14]

Legal Experience

Truncale has spent his entire career at the firm of Orgain, Bell & Tucker.  At the firm, Truncale worked in civil defense, practicing in Texas state and federal courts.  He also practiced white collar criminal defense in federal court.[15]  Over the course of his legal career, Truncale has tried over 100 matters in state and federal court.[16]

Additionally, in 1992, Truncale became certified as a mediator under Texas law, mediating cases including contract disputes, tort actions, sexual harassment cases, and libel suits.[17]  In 2017 and 2018, Truncale mediated nine different suits, including suits under tort law, landlord-tenant law, and contract law.[18]

Interviews and Expressed Views

As noted above, Truncale was a congressional candidate in the 2011-12 election cycle.  As a candidate, Truncale ran as a conservative, expressing his desire for limited government, low spending and taxation, and the rollback of government regulation.  While many of his interviews and speeches focus on general talking points and his support of conservative agenda items such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of the Balanced Budget Amendments, a few also discuss his views on the judiciary and the Constitution, as well as more potentially controversial topics.

Judicial Philosophy

Truncale, who served on the Federal Judicial Evaluation Commission for Texas during the Obama Administration, has labeled himself a “strict constructionist.”[19]  He has also described himself as a “conservative by conviction, not by convenience.”  In an interview, Truncale described his judicial philosophy as follows:

“I do not believe that judges should legislate from the bench…and, really, overlook the plain meaning of the United States Constitution.  That’s how we’ve got into a lot of trouble now.  That’s why government has gotten too big.  That’s why we’ve forgotten about the Tenth Amendment, which means that power is to be retained by the people and by the states, and that the people and the states don’t exist for the furtherance of the federal government…”[20]

Obamacare – Expansion of the Federal Government

In many of his speeches, Truncale has attacked Obamacare as a symbol of an expanding federal government.  One talking point that Truncale would often repeat was that “If Obamacare is not allowed to stand, there is no limit to what the federal government can do to you.”[21]

In another forum, Truncale noted:

“It [Obamacare] is unconstitutional.  There is no right in the Constitution for the government to tell you what kind of insurance to buy…”[22]

These remarks were made before the Supreme Court upheld the Obamacare individual mandate in June 2012.

Immigration

While Truncale, similar to other Republicans, advocated for stronger border enforcement during his campaign, one particular statement may draw controversy.  At a CD14 Job Interview in 2012, Truncale was asked a question about border security.  In responding, Truncale noted his desire in stronger border enforcement and “boots on the ground” near the Texas-Mexico border.[23]  He went on to say the following:

“And, of course, we must…with regard to immigration…we must not continue to have the maggots coming in.”[24]

While it is unclear what exactly Truncale means through the use of the term “maggots”, the context of his statement and his preface “with regard to immigration” suggests that he is using the term to refer to immigrants (or potentially undocumented immigrants).  If this is what Truncale meant, his use of such inflammatory language may raise questions about his willingness and inability to treat litigants fairly, regardless of their background.

4/19 – UPDATE: According to Drew Hudson from the Department of Justice, Truncale  used the word “magnets”, not “maggots.”  Hudson notes that by magnets, Truncale was referring to incentives for illegal immigrants to enter the United States, such as entitlement programs.  As such, the correct transcription, Hudson suggests, is:

“And, of course, we must…with regard to immigration…we must not continue to have the magnets coming in.”

Abortion

In a May 2012 forum, Truncale was asked about his views on government funding of Planned Parenthood.  Truncale responded:

“I don’t think we should be funding Planned Parenthood.  I’m pro-life.”[25]

In another interview, Truncale criticized the Obama Administration’s contraception mandate, describing it as an “assault on the Catholic Church.”[26]

Gun Rights

In an interview with the Police News, Truncale described himself as a supporter of Second Amendment rights, noting:

“Once you start chiseling away at the Second Amendment rights, once you start chiseling away the First Amendment rights, with regard to religion, then all of our liberties are at risk.”[27]

Overall Assessment

In evaluating Truncale’s overall record, it is important to separate his record as an attorney from his record as a congressional candidate.  Looking solely at Truncale’s legal record, there is little to disqualify him from the federal bench.  His experience in complex civil litigation prepares him well for many of the matters he would address as a federal court judge, while his experience with white collar defense would help him on the criminal side.  Additionally, having spent his entire life in Beaumont, Truncale is intimately familiar with the legal community he would be serving as a judge.

However, the legal and political views expressed by Truncale during his congressional campaign may raise concerns regarding his impartiality on the bench.  Truncale’s self-description as a “conservative by conviction” may be raised by critics to argue that, on the bench, he would be motivated by conservative ideology rather than fidelity to the law.  Additionally, Truncale may draw opposition for his use of the term “maggots” during a discussion of immigration.

UPDATE – 4/19: As noted above, the Department of Justice argues that Truncale actually used the term “magnets.”  Obviously, if he actually said magnets, this should not bear on his qualification for judicial office.

Overall, Truncale’s nomination speaks to the danger of picking judges with electoral pasts.  Statements made as candidates invariably have a way of coming back to haunt nominees.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Michael Truncale: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] See id. at 46.

[6] See id.

[7] See id.

[8] Id. at 5.

[9] See id. at 34.

[11] See id.

[12] Sherry Koonce, Beaumont Attorney Seeks District 14 Seat, The Port Arthur News, Aug. 3, 2011.

[13] David Yates, Tort Reform Among Issues for Beaumont Attorneys Running for Congress, Southeast Texas Record, May 22, 2012.

[14] Sherry Koonce, Brazoria County Candidates Lead Republicans in District 14 Race, Port Arthur News, May 29, 2012.

[15] See Truncale, supra n. 1 at 38.

[16] Id.

[17] See id. at 36.

[18] Id. at 35-36.

[19] Michael Truncale, Lake Jackson Tea Party Forum (May 1, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1ztJk4m8P4).

[20] Michael Truncale, Interview with the Police News (Feb. 18, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kzb9XP3Xago).

[21] Michael Truncale, Candidate for U.S. House, Address to the Southeast Texas Tea Party (Apr. 3, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DBeSssCOCM). See also Michael Truncale, North Galveston County Chamber of Commerce Forum (Feb. 21, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMSs6Ld1ggw); Michael Truncale, Beaumont Chamber of Commerce Republican Candidate Forum (January 13, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Qqpe7VM_UI); Michael Truncale, Lake Jackson Tea Party Forum (May 1, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1ztJk4m8P4).

[22] Michael Truncale, Lake Jackson Tea Party Forum (May 1, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN7KCQ6RzIw).   

[23] Michael Truncale, CD14 Job Interview (uploaded on May 23, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hr3rSPRTGJM).

[24] See id. at 1:31-1:36.

[25] Michael Truncale, Lake Jackson Tea Party Forum (May 1, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXUVd_Li-GM).  

[26] Michael Truncale, Interview with the Police News (Feb. 18, 2012) (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kzb9XP3Xago).

[27] See id.

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