Immigrant Victimized by Lousy Lawyers
Posted by shadmia on February 21, 2008
The three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan took aim at the government, scolding its lawyers for quibbling over irrelevant language in one case in a quest to win a court victory.
Victimized by the failures of lawyers on both sides are the immigrants, “a vulnerable population who come to this country searching for a better life and often arrive unfamiliar with our language and culture, in economic deprivation and in fear,” the court wrote.
“In immigration matters, so much is at stake — the right to remain in this country, to reunite a family or to work,” the court said.
The court was considering the case of a Jamaican immigrant, Garfield Livern St. Valentine Aris, who the government was trying to deport. The court ordered that his case be re-opened after criticizing both the defense lawyers and the government. They noted that Aris, who has not been deported, was an immigrant with limited familiarity with U.S. immigration law.
Aris, who arrived in the U.S. in 1983 at the age of 12, was a legal immigrant. He got married and supported both his wife and step-daughter. He had no close family members in Jamaica according to the court. In 1991, he pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine, was given 3 year’s probation and fined $1,000. After his conviction federal authorities ordered deportation proceedings to begin.
The appeals court said Aris’s lawyers “failed spectacularly” once he was victimized by a simple error: A paralegal told him it appeared his hearing was not scheduled on the day that it was. When he didn’t show up, he was ordered deported on May 3, 1995.
The law firm never told Aris the hearing had occurred and that he had been ordered deported. It wasn’t until June that Aris found out that there was a deportation order against him. When he hired new lawyers, they filed erroneous and legally flawed documents on his behalf.
As a result of all of this, he was detained for nine months, and, without his income, his wife and stepdaughter could not afford to pay rent and were forced to move to a homeless shelter.
The court of appeals made it clear that they thought Aris was not properly served by his original lawyers:
“When lawyers representing immigrants fail to live up to their professional obligations, it is all too often the immigrants they represent who suffer the consequences,” the appeals court wrote. “We appreciate that, unfortunately, calendar mishaps will from time to time occur. But the failure to communicate such mistakes, once discovered, to the client and to take all necessary steps to correct them is more than regrettable — it is unacceptable. It is nondisclosure that turns the ineffective assistance of a mere scheduling error into more serious malpractice.”
The court also faulted the government:
“Governmental authorities, whatever their roles, must be attentive to such lapses that so grievously undermine the administration of justice,” the appeals panel said.
The appeals panel said in a footnote that it seemed Aris had a compelling argument to remain in the United States due to “social and humane considerations,” including that his drug offense was relatively minor and that his family is in the country.