Legal Ethics

2nd Circuit: Lawyer 'Failed Spectacularly' in Immigration Case

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Like too many other immigrants, Garfield Livern St. Valentine Aris was not well-served by a number of lawyers, the New York City-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says in an opinion yesterday.

In fact, his initial counsel “failed spectacularly,” a three-judge appellate panel writes, after a paralegal misinformed him about the date of a scheduled hearing and hence he failed to appear. As a result, he was scheduled for deportation—but the law firm never told him of either the missed hearing or the deportation order, reports the Associated Press.

Although new lawyers helped him appeal the deportation order, in a case that is still ongoing, Aris was nonetheless jailed for nine months, forcing his wife and child into a homeless shelter, the opinion recounts. He is a lawful immigrant, but was targeted for deportation after he pleaded guilty in 1991 to a cocaine possession charge and was sentenced to probation. The 2nd Circuit ruled yesterday that the case must be reopened because of the unfair manner in which Aris was treated.

Meanwhile, the government counsel didn’t do well either. Instead of recognizing the injustice of the situation, the government focused on what the panel described as irrelevant semantics—whether the paralegal told Aris “you do not have a hearing” or “our records indicate that you do not have a hearing scheduled,” the Post explains.

“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 panel writes in its opinion.

“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.”

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